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9 Dystopian Novels in Translation to Read Now

By Words Without Borders

As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its second anniversary here in the US, we're looking back at another phenomenon from the past two years: the wave of dystopian novels translated into English. Below, we highlight nine of these titles—from Argentina, Egypt, Iceland, Japan, and more—in the order in which they were published. Ranging from grim to magical to "cheerful," these dystopian novels will (we hope) offer some much-needed distraction as we face down a third pandemic year. 

1. Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, translated from Spanish by Sarah Moses

In Agustina Bazterrica's Tender Is the Flesh, a virus has swept across the world, rendering all animal meat inedible. To fill the void, the government has legalized the consumption of human meat, and the novel follows Marcos, a slaughterhouse worker, as he grapples with the ethical dilemmas of his job. Read a review here.


2. The Clerk by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

In a dysfunctional city where violence, clones, and acid rain proliferate, Guillermo Saccomanno's titular Clerk goes to work at his unpleasant job every day. It seems his dreary routine will go on forever—until a romantic opportunity presents itself.


3.The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou, translated from German by Sharmila Cohen

Julia von Lucadou's The High-Rise Diver draws us into a world of constant surveillance where performance is valued above all else. When a top-tier athlete suddenly stops training, a psychologist, Hitomi, is put in the impossible position of getting her back on track or losing everything.


4. The Membranes by Ta-wei Chi, translated from Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich

Originally published in Taiwan in 1996, The Membranes imagines a future in which the earth's surface has become uninhabitable, forcing humanity to flee to the bottom of the ocean. Nonetheless, Momo is content with her underwater life in T City, until a meeting with her estranged mother forces her to question everything she has taken for granted about her world. Read an excerpt of The Membranes here.


5. The Movement by Petra Hůlová, translated from Czech by Alex Zucker

Petra Hůlová's dystopian novel takes place in a society governed by the Movement, a feminist organization that has forbidden men to be attracted to women based on their outward appearance. As it follows Vera, a prison guard at a reeducation camp for men, The Movement offers a chilling vision of an ideology taken to the extreme. Read an excerpt on WWB. 


6. Here Is a Body by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright

In Here Is a Body, Egyptian author Basma Abdel Aziz conjures up a hauntingly realistic dystopia in which a military regime violently suppresses its opponents and indoctrinates children through "rehabilitation programs." Readers might also be interested in Abdel Aziz's award-winning novel The Queue, an Orwellian satire of government bureacracy excerpted on WWB.


7. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, translated from Russian by Bela Shayevich

A century after it was written, Yevgeny Zamyatin's classic novel We received an update last year in the form of a new translation by Bela Shayevich. Set one thousand years in the future, We envisions a society that has stripped away the individuality of its citizens, identifying them only by numbers. But as the protagonist falls in love with an alluringly unique woman, he is drawn into a plot to overthrow the city's totalitarian regime.


8. Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada, translated from Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani 

In this new novel from award-winning author Yoko Tawada, Japan no longer exists, its citizens displaced to other parts of the world. One such refugee, Hiruko, has ended up in Denmark, where she teaches a language she herself invented but longs to speak her mother tongue. This yearning sets off a series of wild adventures that also raise profound questions about memory, language, and immigration.


9. Swanfolk by Kristín Ómarsdottir, translated from Icelandic by Vala Thorodds

Forthcoming in July 2022, Kristín Ómarsdottir's Swanfolk tells the story of a spy named Elísabet who stumbles upon a collective of creatures who are half swan, half woman. As she is drawn further and further into their world, Elísabet begins to lose her own grip on reality even as she discovers the dark impulses that govern the swan women.


Related Reading:

WWB's Most Anticipated Translated Books of 2022

Utopia and Dystopia in Beirut: A Conversation with Barrack Rima

For International Translation Day: 15 Ways of Looking at Translation


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Published Jan 20, 2022   Copyright 2022 Words Without Borders

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