Tired of reading the same plots by the same types of authors? Need a palate cleanser? Want to interject new life into a reading group that thinks The Help is a controversial title?
Looking for an author that can really describe the unsettling, creepy feeling of not knowing whether the people around you mean well or not? Of not knowing whether the things your soul craves most are good for you or not? Of not knowing whether your craving to belong will help you—or hurt you?
If so, I have some lovely, dark, and wonderful weird fiction novels in translation for you!
I tried to organize this list in order of shorter, easier reads that might lead to book club discussion, to more complex reads that require time to unfold.
1. Now You’re One of Us, by Asa Nonami (Japan), translated by Michael Volek.
Now You’re One of Us is the tale of an upper-class Japanese family gone wrong. So wrong. This book is like a combination of Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret) and an instruction novel on how to run a profitable family cult. While other books on this list are weird and surreal, this book is weird and juicy, scratching the itch for scandal in a way that’s so over the top that it becomes almost a satire.
2. The Vegetarian, by Han Kang (South Korea), translated by Deborah Smith.
The Vegetarian is the tale of a woman who, against her family’s wishes, decides to stop eating meat, after a series of sensual nightmares leads her to worry about the darker side of her nature. The strongly feminist story feels like a combination of Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf. It’s short, and written in a clear, direct style that lends itself to book club mischief.
3. Amatka, by Karin Tidbeck (Sweden), translated by the author.
A marketing researcher in personal hygiene products travels to a farming community, Amatka, to see whether any of the products they make can be used in her home town. However, Amatka mainly farms fungus products that turn into goop if they aren’t properly cared for. Another short book that is clearly and directly written—deliberately so, in a way that becomes horrifying as the story progresses. The story reads like a combination of 1984 and Stanislaw Lem’s alien novel Solaris.
4. The Memory Police, by Y?ko Ogawa (Japan), translated by Stephen Snyder.
Unlike a lot of weird fiction, which can be skimpy on descriptions, this book is invested in incredible details. It feels like the difference between a concrete bunker and a Miyazaki movie like Spirited Away. However, because this is a book about how remembering the wrong things can cost you, the details serve to increase the tension of the book. I recommend this one if you liked Japanese classics by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. It feels like his kind of story, zooming in on the small details and exploring conflicting points of view.
5. Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was, by Angélica Gorodisher (Argentina), translated by Ursula K. LeGuin
This book is more challenging than the previous two, more complex, and less direct and clear in its writing (and translation). It’s also more of a mouthful, something to savor and consider, and enjoy reading just for the pleasure of seeing the author and translator turn a phrase. The book is the history of an unnamed empire over its various ages, seen from after its fall, and from another country. (“Kalpa” means “aeon” in Sanskrit; the title loosely translates to “The time between the creation and recreation of an empire.”) I don’t recommend this one for your book club; it’s book more meant for leisure reading. There’s a twist to the book that slowly becomes apparent toward the end. Read this if you like Ursula K. LeGuin’s books or Gene Wolfe’s Solar Cycle.
Bonus Book: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Mexico), translated by Katherine Talbot, Anthony Kerrigan, and Marina Warner.
Leonora Carrington was a surrealist writer and painter who wrote short fable-like stories for adults and children as strange as anything Salvador Dalí ever painted (or wrote). Each story seems, at first glance, to have been sloppily tossed together, but in a way that makes perfect sense and never wastes a word. I found myself reading these tales not so much for their meaning (there is meaning!), but as a sort of brain-refresher, clearing out the daily dust that had gathered in my brain. Read these if you like Dalí or Frieda Kahlo.
If you’re interested in weird fiction written by yours truly, check out The House Without a Summer, describing what happens when an asshole gets his hands on the spacetime continuum. It’s set in England in the year 1816, the real-life year without a summer (and the year that Frankenstein was written). It has not yet been translated out of English, but I promise you it’s off the beaten path! I recommend it if you liked Black Tom by Victor Lavalle or The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead. You can find out more about it here.
And now you must excuse me; it’s time for me to read the next book on my weird fiction novels in translation list, Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-nan. I’ll let you know if it’s good.