Spine-Chilling Reads in Translation: Scary Stories From Around the World
By Toby Smollett and Kate Williams
As we inch ever closer to winter and the temperature starts to drop, the darkening skies make it the perfect weather for curling up on the sofa and reading horror stories. As such, here at the Publishing Post, we have curated a list of creepy stories from across the globe for you to enjoy.
People Like Them by Samira Sedira, translated from French by Lara Vergnaud
Bloomsbury Publishing, July 2021.
Based on a real murder case from 2003, this gripping psychological thriller will send shivers down your spine. Set in an isolated village in the rural French mountains, the local people lead modest lives based on conservative values. But when the Langlois family (who happen to be both black and extremely wealthy) move to the village, this harmony is disrupted as traditional hierarchies are thrown off balance. Anna Guillot, our narrator, is hired to work as a cleaner for the new family and they strike up an unusual relationship. As the two families interact, they begin to clash over their differences and over the course of the novel racial and class tensions grow slowly, eventually culminating in Anna’s husband savagely murdering the Langlois family. The plot alternates between the murder trial and the events leading up to the event, and by making us aware of the murder from the very beginning, Sedira manages to subtly comment on underlying racism and unconscious biases in the Guillot family’s behaviour. Akin to the critically acclaimed films ‘Get Out’ and ‘Parasite’, Sedira raises thought-provoking questions on the interactions between race and class in this dark story that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai
Pushkin Press, December 2019
Hailed as the Japanese equivalent to Agatha Christie, this is the first book to be translated into English by celebrated crime writer, Seishi Yokomizo. Originally written in a serialised format for a magazine in 1946, this classic locked-room mystery follows amateur detective Kosuke Kindachi’s attempt to solve the brutal murder of a newlywed couple on their wedding night. Involving snowy landscapes, a man in a mask and a bloodied samurai sword, this haunting story (that inspired the 1975 Japanese horror film, Death at an Old Mansion) is the perfect read for a cold winter’s night. Underlying the eerie atmosphere, however, is a comment on class anxieties in rural 1940s Japan, caused by changing customs and loss of traditions; the wedding was controversial in the first place due to the “unsuitability” of the match. And if this engrossing story isn’t enough, another translation of Yokomizo’s books has already been published, with another two due to be released in the coming months.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright
Oneworld Publications, September 2018
A novel which wears its influence on its sleeve, this black-comedy horror story places the classic reanimated corpse of Mary Shelley’s original work in the streets of Baghdad, which is suffering from a United States invasion. Our main character, Hadi, a less-than-trustworthy junk dealer, finds himself gathering the remaining body parts of people who have died in explosions, hoping to combine them into one whole person and thereby be able to give them the funeral they were never able to have. The title somewhat suggests how this goes: the patchwork body comes to life and the transition is not smooth. It is easy to become absorbed in the story of our Frankenstein (his name is translated by Jonathan Wright as Whatshisname), following him across his war-torn city as he reckons with sectarianism and war. Ultimately, however, what elevates this story is its absurdism, as war is absurd and for as long as it exists we should always remember that.
An Awkward Age by Anna Starobinets, translated by Hugh Aplin
Hesperus Press, November 2010
Although this is a collection of excellent horror stories, it is the eponymous story that really deserves your attention. Told via the diary of Max, the story begins in his childhood and progresses into his teenage years, as he develops a unique condition of believing himself to have been taken over by a colony of ants. Anna Starobinets does an excellent job of building up tension in the first half on the work, in a way that might remind you of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. While this work might not have the same level of political and social insight as the other suggestions on this list, it remains incredibly gripping and a perfect way to spend a cold winter’s evening.