Terror in Translation: 6 International Horror Novels You Need to Read

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Horror literature can sometimes offer the perfect antidote to the unease and anxiety of current affairs or everyday stresses, and there is a wealth of it to be found outside of the American or British literature that tends to dominate the shelves. International horror novels are a great way to explore what horror means, not only to you but to different cultures and communities, and additionally support the art of translation.

Expanding our shelves and minds is not only necessary, but enjoyable! So, take a tour of the terrors of the world with this list of international horror novels from across the globe; from observations on the generational trauma of colonialism, to ministrations on the fear of our own mortality, to stories full of guts and saws, there are plenty of grisly sights to see.

International Horror Novels

Chainsaw Man cover

Chainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto, Translated by Amanda Haley

This gory and gruesome new manga, translated from Japanese, tackles typical Shonen tropes with surprising scares and twists. Denji is struggling to raise funds to settle debts with the Yakuza when he is unfortunately mauled to death at the hands of demons. Keen to keep living, he makes a pact with his pet devil and becomes Chainsaw Man: a man with the power to unleash chainsaws out of his arms and face! Hired into a devil eradication task force, responsibility-averse Denji becomes involved with increasingly strange and freaky missions to cleanse the world of evil…but has he been duped into serving it instead? A disarming (ha) story about capitalism and purpose, this raunchy and grim manga is packed with bizarre, beautiful art, body horror, and so, so much blood.

Trigger warnings: vomit, extreme violence

Hadriana In All My Dreams cover

Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre, Translated by Kaiama L. Glover

This Haitian horror novel, translated from French, is a vibrant celebration of life, which will definitely lure you into a false sense of whimsy. However, underneath all of the Carnival scenes and NSFW content, there lies a morbid, haunting tale about decolonisation and autonomy. When the beauty of the town, Hadriana, a white French woman, suddenly collapses and appears to die at the altar, clashing community faiths threaten to jeopardize her funeral rites. When her grave is soon discovered empty, our protagonist Patrick becomes obsessed with traditional zombie folklore in an attempt to find the undead woman he loves, as well as understand how to tell the history of his home. If you are looking for a story about a shambling, brain-eating bride, look elsewhere: this story is more of a meta-dissection of the ways in which Hollywood has appropriated the culture of voodoo and zombies, and as a result created false, prejudiced perceptions of the Caribbean that persist today. In a world dominated by exhausting capitalist expectations, the spread of neocolonial misinformation, and prevailing racism, Depestre’s protagonist is curious about who, or what, makes a zombie, and if he’s been one long before his lover was.

Trigger warning: rape

Nothing cover

Nothing by Janne Teller, Translated by Martin Aitken

Translated from Danish, this philosophical novel of dread and the pursuit of meaning is a deeply distressing story, only exacerbated by the young ages of its main cast and the mounting tension as they get into progressive danger in an attempt to explain to a classmate what the purpose of living is. Pierre-Anton, in a moment of nihilistic clarity, decides to sit in a tree because he has concluded that life is meaningless and his peers seem unable to convince him to come down, no matter how cruel and disturbing their sacrifices get. Deeply cynical, absurdist, and a test of your sympathy, this YA novel is a journey into the dark parts of our humanity and how quickly it can be lost in an ironic quest to prove its existence.

Trigger warnings: animal cruelty/death, rape, mutilation

The Hole

The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun, Translated by Sora Kim-Russell

Translated from Korean, this novel follows Ogi, who is recovering from a car crash that killed his wife and paralyzed him. Unable to move or do anything himself, he relies on various caretakers such as his mother in law, whose increasingly strange behaviour kickstarts a paranoid, panicked slow-burn thriller as Ogi battles for autonomy while trapped in bed. This novel is a masterpiece example of an unreliable narrator, as our feelings towards Ogi begin to shift as his condition worsens; was the car crash actually an accident? Is his mother-in-law really a monster, or is she the victim here? It becomes evident that we are not being told the full story, and you’ll be incredibly engaged trying to figure out what the gaps in Ogi’s point of view reveal. A tale that grapples with the consequences of male entitlement and the messiness of revenge, be prepared to be thinking about this one for a while.

Trigger warnings: infertility, ableist abuse, sexual assault

Tender Is The Flesh cover

Tender Is The Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, Translated by Sarah Moses

Translated from Spanish, this bleak peek into an alternate world tells the tale of Marcos, a man who works at a factory which processes human meat for mass consumption. In response to a virus that apparently made animals toxic to people, and a widespread refusal of an alternative vegan lifestyle, the corporate battery-farming and cannibalization of human meat becomes legalised. This bizarre novel documents Marcos’s growing dissatisfaction with his job, agitation at his inability to escape this gruesome system of slaughter, and his relationship with a human woman that he is ‘gifted’ by a business partner. Rather than barbecuing her, he attempts to establish normality, with disastrous and distressing results. Violent, gut-churning (literally), and swimming in gore, this horror novel is a blunt examination of the horrors of capitalism, the illusion of agency in a systemically oppressive world, and how media misinformation leads to societal rot.

Trigger warnings: rape, graphic descriptions of mutilation and cannibalism, homophobic language, death of a child

The Twenty Days of Turin

The Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio de Maria, Translated by Ramon Glazov

Translated from Italian, this sinister allegorical novel about the rise – and endurance – of fascism follows an unnamed journalist who is on a mission to uncover the secrets of the eponymous 20 days in Turin. All he knows is that, for seemingly no reason, a large portion of the city’s population fell prey to an insomnia pandemic and the streets were suddenly full of sleepwalkers and murder. In addition, a mysterious library was established as an apparent respite in which the terrified public could record their increasingly disturbed thoughts and feelings, hoping to reach out and rediscover community during a time of intense distress. However, the library has since been destroyed and everyone that our researcher approaches is not only reluctant to confess the truth of what happened there, but actively warns him to keep his nose out of the town’s past. As the researcher slips deeper into the troubled history of this plague, things take a turn for the eldritch, and our narrator must confront the otherworldly as well as the survival of draconic, violent movements. This novel is short but will get under your skin as a result of its relevant anti-fascism critiques and Gothic writing style: prepare for paranoia!

Trigger warning: mentions of pedophilia

Love these international horror novels? To find more translated fiction, be sure to check out some recent titles from this year as well as these award-winning tomes !