This is a guest post from Pierce Alquist. Pierce is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. In her free time she’s a voracious traveler and foodie. Follow her on Twitter @PierceAlquist.
Love The Handmaid’s Tale? Check out these great works of international literature, complete with political unrest, elements of dystopian and speculative fiction, and unusual narrative structures.
The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz
Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. The Queue is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern city under authoritarian rule. The centralized authority the Gate has risen to power after the “Disgraceful Events,” a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for the most basic of their daily affairs but the Gate never opens and the queue grows longer, until it becomes a permanent and never-ending facet of the city. It’s a powerful and startling novel. Basma Abdel Aziz is also an important activist and figure in Egypt right now (nicknamed “The Rebel”) and this is her first novel.
The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers. Probably the closest in subject matter to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Core of the Sun is a wildly inventive, smart, and wickedly funny dystopian novel set in an alternate Republic of Finland. This alternate state has bred a subspecies of women, known as eloi, for sex and procreation. The eloi are receptive and submissive, beloved for their blonde hair and perfect bodies. Smart and independent women are sterilized. Our protagonist Vanna passes as an eloi with her blonde locks and good looks but is fiercely intelligent. She is desperately looking for her missing sister while also keeping at bay her growing addiction to a powerful, illegal stimulant—the chili pepper. If that’s not enough to tempt you, there’s also a crazy religious cult, chili pepper induced hallucinations, and one of the most jaw dropping opening scenes I’ve ever read.
Human Acts: A Novel by Han Kang
Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. In the midst of a student uprising a young boy is killed. His story and the events following the uprising are told in a series of narratives—each chapter from a different perspective: his best friend, his heartbroken mother, a factory worker, an editor facing down government censorship. Together these narratives form a fictionalized account of the South Korean Gwangju Uprising in 1980. Horrific and brutal, Human Acts is not for the faint of heart but it is so beautifully written. If Han Kang and Deborah Smith sound familiar, they’re also the author/translator team of the Man Booker International Prize winner The Vegetarian.