It’s Banned Books Week this week, the week we celebrate our freedoms by challenging and reading books that have been banned. The week is an American invention, by the American Libraries Association, but has come to be an event celebrated around the world. This is because America isn’t the only country to have banned books, sadly censorship is a worldwide problem.
Bannings change and reflect the time and current feeling in the country in which they are banned. For instance, this year’s challenged list by the ALA contains lots of books around transgender and LGBT issues, reflecting the very issues the country is having right now, while ten years ago it was all about Harry Potter and witchcraft.
Today I have taken a look around the world and throughout time to look at some banned publications, and from those we have created a list of ten brilliant banned books that we don’t think should be overlooked.
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
Challenged in the UK, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada
Nabokov’s account of one man’s obsession with a young girl isn’t an easy read, but it’s worth the challenge as it’s easily one of the most beautiful books of all time. It’s the saddest tale ever, wrapped up in the beautiful language of a love story, and this is its crowning glory. Although the ban is now lifted on Lolita, it was banned in many countries on release for its ‘obscene’ content, and is still regularly challenged today.
Animal Farm – George Orwell (1945)
Challenged in Britain, USSR, the UAE, North Korea, and Vietnam
Although a staple of the school reading list today, the political novella is an allegory played out through farm animals. When Orwell completed the Novella in 1943 he found no one would publish it due to the important relationship between Britain and the USSR during WWII. After publication it was banned in the USSR and other communist countries. In 2002 the novel was banned in schools in the UAE because its anthropomorphic pigs go against ‘Islamic values’ and the book is still banned in North Korea, and censored in Vietnam.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1932)
Challenged in Ireland, and Australia
The dystopian novel, Brave New World imagines a future that is both dark and scary and regularly challenges 1984 to the ‘best dystopian novel’ top spot. Upon its release in 1932 it was banned in Ireland and Australia for references to sexual promiscuity. All bans have now expired.
Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank (1947)
Challenged in Lebanon, and the USA
Anne Frank’s Diary captures in the words of one teenage girl, the horrors of being a Jew in hiding during WWII. When released in 1947, Anne Frank’s Diary was banned immediately in Lebanon for ‘its positive depiction of Jews’. More recently it’s seen several challenges in American schools for its honest depiction of sexuality and growing up. The book remains banned in Lebanon.
Borstal Boy – Brendan Behan (1958)
Challenged in Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand
The autobiographical novel Borstal Boy is most notable for its rich and lively dialogue capturing the life of borstal inmates and is insightful and skilfully penned. Upon its release it was immediately banned in Ireland for its critique of Irish republicanism and the Catholic Church and it’s depiction of adolescent sexuality. Almost immediately after it was banned in Australia and New Zealand. All bans on Borstal Boy are now expired.
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (1939)
Challenged in America
The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel by Steinbeck and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, set during the Great Depression it captures a time in history in a way only Steinbeck can. Upon its publication in 1939 a temporary ban was put in place in California for its ‘unflattering portrayal of the area’s residents’.
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi (2000)
Challenged in America
Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel, depicting a childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. While generally well received by Western audiences the book has faced several challenges and was removed from all Chicago public schools in 2013, and was included in the ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books in 2014.
Schindler’s Ark/List – Thomas Keneally (1982)
Challenged in Lebanon
Schindler’s Ark follows the true story of Oskar Schindler, saviour to thousands of Jews during WWII after selecting them to work in his factories. The story is so famous it’s also a motion picture, and Schindler himself is considered a hero. Upon release it was banned in Lebanon for its ‘positive depiction of Jews’ and remains banned to this day.
Wild Swans – Jung Chang (1993)
Challenged in China
Following the story of one family through three generations of women, Wild Swans is a beautiful family history memoir, and definitely worthy of a place in the TBR. Upon release it was banned in the People’s Republic of China for its depiction of Mao Tse-tung. That ban remains in place today.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
Challenged in America and Russia
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a classic historical novel and a lovely read, but it’s not been without controversy over the years. Banned in the Confederate States during the Civil war because of its anti-slavery content, it was also banned in Russia upon release for ‘portraying a representation of equality’ (wait, what?!). Thankfully all bans are lifted today.
I could have made this list a hundred books long, that’s what a big problem book banning is! Literature has for many years come under attack, from book burnings to bannings and forced censorship.
Thankfully in this global world it’s becoming harder and harder to control citizens in this way, so get out there and and read some banned books and celebrate your fREADom!
Disclaimer: – FRA doesn’t recommend breaking the laws of your country and risking arrest or incarceration.