Translated Books
Arts + Culture,  Literature

5 Chilling Translated Books That You Need to Read

You won’t be quaking in your boots when you read these picks; they are spooky, but not with jump scares or gore. These reads are more concerned with the underlying darkness, the tension that never goes away. I warn you that these books aren’t for the faint of heart, but I highly recommend them. This list highlights some great books translated to English for your eerie reading pleasure.

Vita Nostra book cover

1. Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko 

Original Language: Russian

Translator: Julia Meitov Hersey

Why you should read it:

The protagonist, Sasha, is being watched by a mysterious man in the shadows. As she tries to apply to university, she is forced by powers unknown to attend the Institute of Special Technologies in a town that doesn’t exist, and she has no idea why.  This story threw me for a loop. I would describe it as a mix of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and a high school drama.  This was also a very thick read; it takes a long time to get through, as it is so dense with metaphysical and surreal ideas. That being said, I really recommend it because I’m one hundred percent sure you’ve never read something with themes like this before.

Adele book cover

2. Adèle by Leïla Slimani 

Original Language: French 

Translator: Sam Taylor

Why you should read it:

If you liked Slimani’s national bestseller, The Perfect Nanny, I’d highly recommend this one. Adèle follows a high society married woman living in Paris. Right away you understand that she’s unhappy with her life, but you don’t know why. This story is dark, and at every corner you feel like someone should be murdered (but no one seems to be) and you are left trying to understand their weird behaviour. This book will make you uncomfortable, but it’s oddly captivating reading Adele’s descent into madness. 

Fun Fact: The original title translates to “The Garden of the Ogre”.

The Embalmer book cover

3. The Embalmer by Anne-Renée Caille 

Original Language:  French

Translator: Rhonda Mullins

Why you should read it:

In both French and English, I loved this book. In a unique form combining poetry and prose, this story about a daughter learning embalmment from her father really gets under your skin (pun intended). It’s most disturbing because it’s real; the stories of death that the embalmer details actually happen. Both the French and English versions show the delicateness of the writing, which borders consistently between disturbing and graceful.

Convenience Store Woman book cover

4. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata 

Original Language: Japanese

Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori

Why you should read it:

This is probably the weirdest book on the list. At first it seems ordinary—a woman working at a convenience store—but the character’s inner dialogue keeps it feeling eerie. Sometimes you feel like the main character, Keiko, doesn’t even know how to act human. So, if you’re into that, please read this! This book gives an interesting insight into how Japanese society perceives women. 

The Vegetarian book cover

5. The Vegetarian by Han Kang 

Original Language: Korean 

Translator: Deborah Smith

Why you should read it:

Just like Convenience Store Woman, one of the benefits of a translated work is to explore a different way of thinking. Seemingly the perfect obedient “housewife”, everything changes for Yeong-Hye when a dream pushes her to stop eating meat. This book, with the essence of Haruki Murakami’s style, talks about women’s sexuality and the growing popularity of veganism in the darkest way possible. This book is incredibly divisive amongst readers, despite winning the Man Booker International Prize, but don’t think its controversy is a reason not to pick it up. Give it a chance and join the conversation.

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