Many books have been banned over the years, and even today, there are still books that are being challenged and banned because they:
a) make people uncomfortable because they present ideas and thoughts that don’t align with their views
b) aren’t considered appropriate in terms of content, i.e. too sexual, too violent, etc.
c) are considered treasonous to governments because they challenge the status quo
In fact, regarding my last point, there have been authors that have not only risked their lives because of the stories they’ve told (and have also had their books outlawed and banned), but some have even died for it.
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Case in point: Anna Politkovskaya, author of Putin’s Russia. While nothing has been confirmed, it’s has been alleged that the author, who was very outspoken against Putin’s regime, had multiple hits on her life.
According to Barnes and Noble, she was found shot dead in an elevator – this after there already being at least nine previous attempts on her life (including poisoning). The five men arrested for her murder have insisted that they’ve done so under orders.
So while there’s nothing that seems to be able to pinpoint anyone beyond those who’ve committed the crime, the general consensus is that everyone knows just why this happened.
It’s clear that authors often risk a lot when they tell stories – be it fiction or non-fiction. Here in SA, we’ve had our fair share of books that have been challenged and caused a lot of controversy recently (The President’s Keepers and The Lost Boys of Bird Island) and we’ve had our fair share of reads that have been banned.
In light of it being Banned Books week – we highlight a few local and international reads that have been prohibited.
I Write what I like by Steve Biko
A collection of prominent essays, interviews and columns by one of the greatest anti-apartheid resistances fighters, leaders and activists of our time.
Biko gave rise to the Black Consciousness movement, was, like his fellow comrades, relentlessly persecuted in his fight for justice and equality, but continued to put pen to paper even though his work and his party was banned.
The book was originally published in 1978, a year after his death. Pan Macmillan SA released the 40th anniversary edition of the book which contains a forward by Njabulo S. Ndebele, personal reflections on Steve Biko, as well as Biko’s first known published piece of writing.
July’s People by Nadine Gordimer
Prolific author and Nobel Prize Winner Nadine Gordimer had several of her books challenged and banned. In fact, she’s had more than one book banned during the Apartheid era.
One of her most renowned works include July’s People, which is a highly subversive work of fiction, one whose foundation was set in the reality of Apartheid, but one that also envisioned a future in which Apartheid was mired in a violent civil war.
The story is an exploration of role reversals and commentary on the fact that it would take an active role of white South Africans dismantling the system, along with redistribution of resources for there to be a true sense of justice and equality.
The story revolves around the Smales family – liberal whites – who are rescued by their servant July, who offers them refuge in their village against the violence that has taken hold of the country. The roles and shifts in relationship become a strong focal point for the novel and is one that many critics have both praised and lambasted Gordimer for.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
It’s not just the adult books that are challenged though. Children and Young Adult novels are constantly under scrutiny and it’s often because of conservative parents who don’t want to expose their children to content they think they’re not able to handle.
One of those books, a book I read a few years back is The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
This young adult fiction novel was challenged and banned because of its frank depictions and discussions around homosexuality, sex, suicide and supposedly “glorifying the use of alcohol and drugs.”
But frankly, people don’t appreciate it for what it is - a coming-of-age story that’s all the ups and downs of first everythings. It also tackles a difficult topic that’s important for young and old alike need to know and talk about.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a novel that tackles police brutality in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and one that I’ve felt was by no means controversial.
Except of course, fragile racists called for a banning of the book. Not just that, but some took offense because there was a lot of swearing in the book. *eyeroll*
The funny thing is that if they had read the book, they would realise that yes, it deals with uncomfortable truths, but is matter of fact without being tearing anyone else down.
It’s a book that’s meant to highlight the plight and pain of black people and its aim is to educate those who don’t experience what they do.
The book is being adapted to film and is releasing on our shores in October. Stay tuned for a giveaway of this read!
The list of banned books out there are obviously extensive – and we have no doubt that there’ll be books in future that will be challenged and banned for their content, but the key is to push back against those who think it’s okay to silence voices they don’t agree with.