Book Riot, which leans on Tate museum’s definition of surrealism“balances a rational vision of life with one that asserts the power of the unconscious and dreams,” has selected Akwaeke Emezi’s “Freshwater” among eight of the most surreal books ever written.
Also on the list is Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie.
According to the outlet, another important element of surrealism is its ability to find beauty in the strange and the uncanny. So in other words, surreal stories balance reality and imagination to create something new that is also unsettling.
See the eight books below:
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
Translated from Japanese, this bizarre story seems normal enough at first as it follows a woman named Natsuki. She used to spend her summers in the mountains of Nagano, daydreaming with her cousin Yuu. But now that she’s grown, Natsuki is unhappy with her life. So she returns to her safe space in the mountains, preparing to meet Yuu once more. But this book takes a very dark and surreal turn.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin Originally written in Spanish, Fever Dream follows the story of a woman named Amanda. She’s in a rural hospital, and because Amanda is dying, she decides to tell her story to a boy named David. Over the course of this short book, Amanda talks about the past few days. This includes how she ended up at the hospital as increasingly weird things started to happen to her and her daughter.
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington is one of the most famous surrealist artists in Mexico. She’s best known for her paintings, but her writing was also exquisitely strange. This collection of short stories by Carrington is an absolute must read for anyone who wants to read surreal fiction.
Kangaroo Notebook by Kōbō Abe Kangaroo Notebook follows an unnamed narrator who one day wakes up with radish sprouts growing out of his legs. He sees a doctor, who sends our narrator to Hell Valley to take hot spring therapy. If that wasn’t surreal enough, the treatment sends him on a journey to a very strange underworld full of vampire nurses, demons, a fiendish ferryman and even chiropractors.
The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville
The story follows two timelines. The first begins in 1941, with an American disciple of the occult named Jack. His life is forever changed when he meets a clandestine anti-Nazi group and one of their members named André Breton (the real-life man who wrote the Surrealist manifesto). Nine years later the book follows Thibaut. He’s a surrealist fighter trying to escape the hellish streets of Paris — which leads him straight to Sam, an American photographer whose past is haunting him.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Freshwater is the surreal, semi-autobiographical novel of Akwaeke Emezi. This novel tells the story of Ada, and it all begins when her parents pray her into existence. As a volatile child, it becomes clear that Ada has a fractured self. These identities grow sharper when she moves away to college and experiences a traumatic assault. Her other selves, now known as Asụghara and Saint Vincent, are taking control of Ada’s life — and sending her down a darker spiral which explores themes of identity, family, sexuality, and trauma.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The story follows Kafka and Nakata. The former is a teenage boy who runs away from home. The latter is an older man who can talk to cats. Through raining fish, murder, talking cats, and even unaged men, their fates will entwine in strange and wonderful ways as the story moves forward.
Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie
Another stunning collection of short stories that is an absolute must-read of surreal literature! Nudibranch is made up of 15 of the strangest stories you’ll read. Its quirky cast of characters includes a love-hungry goddess, a Grace Jones impersonator, a time traveller, and monks capable of jumping through different dimensions. All of these stories are pretty incredible, but “Grace Jones” in particular stands out — it won the 2020 AKO Cain Prize for African Writing!