Good books undergoing hard times


You may not realize that a number of good books, fictional or non-fictional, may undergo hard times before they reach your hand, if ever. Those works are presented below.

For books, the Goodreads Rating is referred. Of course, this is for reference only.

Books are rated up to 5, and can be evaluated as follows:
4.5 and above   : masterpiece
4.0 to below 4.5: excellent
3.5 to below 4.0: very good

1984 – George Orwell

Goodreads rating: 4.3

After initially earning irate outcries from former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin with the publication of Animal Farm, George Orwell went even further to sour his image in the eyes of the infamous dictator when he wrote 1984. Stalin viewed the text as an unwanted commentary on his ruling style, leading him to display his power to ban it in the Soviet Union, which remained in effect until 1990.

The book also stirred controversy in places other than Russia. Various social groups in the United States denounced the novel and attempted to have it removed from bookstores.

Today Orwell’s novel is celebrated by many as an insightful and, in some cases, clairvoyant commentary on the possible outcomes of ubiquitous, overly bureaucratic government institutions.

Alice’s adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Goodreads rating: 4.0

As it has been hailed by scholars as the epitome of the literary nonsense genre and by children for its vivid imagery and comical whimsy, it may surprise some to find Lewis Carroll’s (pseudonym for Charles Dodgson) Alice’s adventures in Wonderland on a list of banned books. In 1900 a U.S. school prohibited the book from its curriculum, claiming that it expressed expletives and alluded to masturbation and other sexual fantasies as well as diminished, in the eyes of children, the statures of certain authority figures.

This book was formerly banned in the province of Hunan, China, beginning in 1931, for its portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level of complexity as human beings. The censor General Ho Chien believed that attributing human language to animals was an insult to humans. He feared that the book would teach children to regard humans and animals on the same level, which would be “disastrous”.

Animal farm – James Baldwin

Goodreads rating: 4.3

Time magazine chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005); it also featured at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996, and is included in the Great Books of the Western World selection.

Once published, the book was banned in the USSR and other communist countries. In 2002, the novel was banned in the schools of the United Arab Emirates, because it contained text or images that goes against Islamic values, most notably the occurrence of an anthropomorphic, talking pig. The book is still banned in North Korea, and censored in Vietnam. Some printed books in Vietnam bear no translator’s nor publisher’s name.

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Goodreads rating: 4.0

This book was banned in several US states. A school board in Strongsville, Ohio, refused to allow the book to be taught in high school English classrooms in 1972. It also refused to consider Cat’s Cradle as a substitute text and removed both books from the school library. The issue eventually led to a 1976 District Court ruling overturning the ban.

In 1974, it was banned in Dallas, Texas and in Snoqualmie, Washington in 1979, because it has several references to women as “whores”.

Although the novel won no awards upon release, it has remained in print and is seen as one of the most significant American novels of the 20th century.

Dances with wolves – Michael Blake

Goodreads rating: 4.2

Originally written as a spec script by Michael Blake, Dances with wolves went unsold in the mid-1980s. However, Kevin Costner had starred in Blake’s only previous film, Stacy’s Knights (1983), and encouraged Blake in early 1986 to turn the Western screenplay into a novel to improve its chances of being produced. The novel was rejected by numerous publishers but finally published in paperback in 1988.

Eine zeit zu leben und eine zu sterben (A time to love and a time to die) – Erich Maria Remarque

Goodreads rating: 4.4

The author’s first novel, first published in Germany in 1928 has been a brilliant success, selling more than a million copies.

But Nazi Germany was not so enthusiastic. This book was among the books banned and burned by the Nazi regime, due to its anti-war content.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Goodreads rating: 4.0

In 1954, Galaxy Science Fiction reviewer Groff Conklin placed the novel “among the great works of the imagination written in English in the last decade or more.” The Chicago Sunday Tribune‘s August Derleth described the book as “a savage and shockingly prophetic view of one possible future way of life”, calling it “compelling” and praising Bradbury for his “brilliant imagination”.

Fahrenheit 451 is an entire novel about the future and the banning (and burning) of books. In the U.S. it was banned, ironically, because one of the books that eventually gets banned and burned is the Bible.

For whom the bell tolls – Ernest Hemingway

Goodreads rating: 4.0

In 1941 the Pulitzer Prize committee for letters unanimously recommended For whom the bell tolls be awarded the prize for that year. The Pulitzer Board agreed. However, Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University ex officio head of the Pulitzer board at that time, found the novel offensive and persuaded the board to reverse its determination; no award was given for letters that year.

Shortly after its publication the U.S. Post Office, which purpose was in part to monitor and censor distribution of media and texts, declared the book nonmailable. In the 1970s, eight Turkish booksellers were tried for “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state” because they had published and distributed the text.

This wasn’t Hemingway’s only banned book – A farewell to arms and Across the river and Into the trees were also censored domestically and abroad in Ireland, South Africa, Germany and Italy.

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Goodreads rating: 3.8

Movie producers love this books: there are more than 50 movies based on it story or its character Frankenstein. The book has also inspired numerous television programs, video games and derivative works.

But not all authorities love the book. In 1955, it was banned in apartheid South Africa for containing “obscene” or “indecent” material.

Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

Goodreads rating: from 3.7 to 4.7

This seven-book series features Harry Potter, a boy who finds out he is a wizard at age 11 when he receives his invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry learns that his parents were killed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the most evil wizard in history, but that he, Harry, survived that attack. Throughout the series, Voldemort returns in increasingly malevolent incarnations, and Harry and friends must defeat him and save the Wizarding world as well as the Muggles (non-magic folk) from the evil that wants to enslave or obliterate them.

Since 1999, when the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in the U.S., Harry has been challenged. Sorcerer’s Stone was the most frequently challenged book in the U.S. for 1999.

The good news is that the backlash from intellectual freedom fighters has more than matched the censorship attempts. One example: A 2006 challenge in the Gwinnett County (GA) Schools alleged that the Harry Potter books promote witchcraft. After the initial review panel denied the request to remove the books from the schools, the petitioner appealed to the School Board. The School Board, however, upheld the review panel’s decision to retain the books. The challenging parent then took her fight to the Georgia State Board of Education and to civil court. Those bodies also upheld the original decision, but this parent vowed to keep fighting.

In another case, the pastor of St. Joseph School in Wakefield, Massachusetts, deemed the sorcery-heavy storylines of Harry Potter inappropriate for a Catholic school.

Het achterhuis dagboekbrieven 16 Juni – 1 Augustus 1944
(The diary of a young girl)
– Anne Frank

Goodreads rating: 4.2

Anne Frank 2This is the incredible story of an ever-hopeful and ever-wistful young girl who is eventually killed in the Holocaust. In some ways, it is the ultimate example of the ever-classic theme of “Good vs. Evil.” Or one very good person in the face of perhaps the greatest evil of the past several centuries. Yet despite her incredibly horrible enemies and fate, this remarkable teenage girl still believes in “the basic goodness of mankind.”

In Lebanon, the book is banned because it shows Jews in a positive light.

In the U.S., the book has been challenged numerous times for sexually explicit passages, and, in 1983, the book is banned by the Alabama State Textbook Committee for being “a real downer.”

Im Westen nichts Neues (All quiet on the Western Front) – Erich Maria Remarque

Goodreads rating: 3.9

All Quiet on the Western Front sold 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in its first 18 months in print.

But Nazi Germany was not so enthusiastic. This book and its sequel, The Road Back (1930), were among the books banned and burned by the Nazi regime.

Jinnah of Pakistan – Stanley Wolpert

Goodreads rating: 4.2

Wolpert described his subject thus: “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah did all three.” The book is regarded as one of the best biographical books on the life of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The book is banned in Pakistan for recounting Jinnah’s taste for wine and pork.

Lady Chatterley’s lover – D. H. Lawrence

Goodreads rating: 3.5

In the list of Le Monde‘s 100 books of the century from 17,000 French voters, this book ranks No. 39.

This novel was first published privately in 1928 in Italy, and in 1929 in France and Australia. The book soon became notorious for its story of the physical (and emotional) relationship between a working class man and an upper class woman, its explicit descriptions of sex, and its use of then-unprintable words.

British obscenity trial. When the full unexpurgated edition was published by Penguin Books in Britain in 1960, the trial of Penguin under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law. The 1959 Act had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit. One of the objections was to the frequent use of the word “fuck” and its derivatives. Another objection related to the use of the word “cunt”.

Various academic critics and experts of diverse kinds were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on 2 November 1960, was “not guilty”. This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms.

Penguin quickly sold 3 million copies. The Penguin second edition, published in 1961, contains a publisher’s dedication, which reads:

“For having published this book, Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959 at the Old Bailey in London from 20 October to 2 November 1960. This edition is therefore dedicated to the twelve jurors, three women and nine men, who returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’ and thus made D. H. Lawrence’s last novel available for the first time to the public in the United Kingdom”.

While the book itself is not rated very high, it caused “one of the most famous trials of the 20th century” resulting in the non-fiction book The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s lover by Sybille Bedford, with Goodreas rating 4.1.

Australia. Not only was the book banned in Australia, but the book describing the British trial, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, was also banned. A copy was smuggled into the country and then published widely. The fallout from this event eventually led to the easing of censorship of books in the country, although the country still retains the Australian Classification Board.

Canada. In 1962, McGill University Professor of Law and Canadian modernist poet F. R. Scott appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada to defend Lady Chatterley’s lover from censorship. Scott represented the appellants, booksellers who had been offering the book for sale.

The case arose when the police had seized their copies of the book and deposited them with a judge of the Court of Sessions of the Peace, who issued a notice to the booksellers to show cause why the books should not be confiscated as obscene, contrary to the Criminal Code. The trial judge eventually ruled that the book was obscene and ordered that the copies be confiscated. This decision was upheld by the Quebec Court of Queen’s Bench, Appeal Side (now the Quebec Court of Appeal).

Scott then appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. That Court allowed the appeal on a 5–4 split, holding that the book was not an obscene publication.

On 15 November 1960 an Ontario panel of experts, appointed by Attorney General Kelso Roberts, found that novel was not obscene according to the Canadian Criminal Code.

United States. A heavily censored abridgement of Lady Chatterley’s loverwas published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf in 1928. Lady Chatterley’s lover was banned for obscenity in the United States in 1929. It was one of a trio of books (the others being Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill), the ban on which was fought and overturned in court in 1959. It was then published with the complete opinion by United States Court of Appeals Judge Frederick van Pelt Bryan, which first established the standard of “redeeming social or literary value” as a defence against obscenity charges. The New York Times stated the overturning of the obscenity laws “set off an explosion of free speech”.

Japan. The publication of a full translation of Lady Chatterley’s lover by Sei Itō in 1950 led to a famous obscenity trial in Japan, extending from 8 May 1951 to 18 January 1952, with appeals lasting to 13 March 1957. Several notable literary figures testified for the defence, and the trial ultimately ended in a guilty verdict with a ¥100,000 fine for Ito and a ¥250,000 fine for his publisher.

In November 1996, for the first time the Japanese get a chance to read an uncensored version of Lady Chatterley’s lover. “We think publishing the full translation now is appropriate considering changes that have taken place in Japanese society in recent years,” said Atsuyoshi Nakamura, the deputy head of Shinchosha’s paperback division. The publishing house consulted lawyers before going ahead with the project and judged there could be no objection to the novel in view of the contents of present-day photographs and videocassettes, he said.

India. In 1964, “The Chatterley case” concerned a man called Ranjit Udeshi, who ran a book stall in Mumbai. The police sent a “test purchaser” over to the shop, who asked for and purchased an unexpurgated copy of Lady Chatterley’s lover. Udeshi was promptly charged with selling obscene books. All this was happening 31 years after the book was first published. The Supreme Court said the booksellers were liable for circulation of the obscene content even if they argued that they were unaware that a book contained such content. Consider what this means: booksellers cannot plead ignorance of obscene content within any of the books they sell, and will be liable nonetheless..

In 2012, Lady Chatterley’s lover was listed in top five books banned in India, more than 50 years after Britain lifted the ban in 1960.

Les misérables – Victor Hugo

Goodreads rating: 4.2

The Catholic Church banned the book, placing it on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of publications deemed heretical, or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index (a former Dicastery of the Roman Curia) and thus Catholics were forbidden to read them.

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

Goodreads rating: 3.9

This novel has sold more than ten million copies worldwide. The UK edition won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year. It was also chosen for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2003, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee. The UK edition won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year. It was also chosen for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2003, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee.

The French translation L’Histoire de Pi was chosen in the French CBC version of the contest Le combat des livres, where it was championed by Louise Forestier.[7] The novel won the 2003 Boeke Prize, a South African novel award. In 2004, it won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Best Adult Fiction for years 2001–2003. In 2012 it was adapted into a feature film directed by Ang Lee with a screenplay by David Magee.

Prior to such accolades, the novel was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada, which published it in September 2001.

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Goodreads rating: 3.9

French officials banned it for being “obscene,” as did the Argentina, Canada, New Zealand (uncensored 1964), South Africa. United Kingdom, as well as in some American communities.

Today Lolita enjoys a ban-free status in conjunction with being known as one of the most-groundbreaking novels of the 20th century.

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

Goodreads rating: 3.7

Long established as one of the greatest novels, the book has been described as a “perfect” work of fiction. Madame Bovary is the debut novel of French writer Gustave Flaubert, published in 1856. The character lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life.

When the novel was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, public prosecutors attacked the novel for obscenity. The resulting trial in January 1857 made the story notorious.

After Flaubert’s acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller in April 1857 when it was published in two volumes. A seminal work of literary realism, the novel is now considered Flaubert’s masterpiece, and one of the most influential literary works in history.

Memoirs of a geisha – Arthur Golden

Goodreads rating: 4.1

After the Japanese edition of the novel was published, Arthur Golden was sued for breach of contract and defamation of character by Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha he had interviewed for background information while writing the novel. The plaintiff asserted that Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity if she told him about her life as a geisha, due to the traditional code of silence about their clients. However, Golden listed Iwasaki as a source in his acknowledgments for the novel, causing her to face a serious backlash, to the point of death threats. In his defense, Arthur Golden countered that he had tapes of his conversations with Iwasaki. Eventually, in 2003, Golden’s publisher settled with Iwasaki out of court for an undisclosed sum of money.

Iwasaki later went on to write an autobiography, which shows a very different picture of twentieth-century geisha life than the one shown in Golden’s novel. The book was published as Geisha, a Life in the U.S. and Geisha of Gion in the U.K.

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

Goodreads rating: 3.5

Moby Dick holds a very important place in English literature. A survey of 100 authors from 54 countries named the book as one of the 100 best books of all time

But public opinion was very different when Moby Dick debuted in 1851: reviewers trashed it. Many argued that it wasn’t even one of Melville’s best books.

Sales bombed. Moby Dick sold only 500 copies in the United Kingdom. Shortly after Melville’s death in 1891, his publisher reprinted several of his novels, including Moby Dick. These new editions excited New York’s literary scene. Like long-smoldering embers, this underground movement kept Melville’s name alive. Eventually, the flame spread. So much discussion surrounded Moby Dick that many people gave the book a second chance.

Of mice and men – John Steinbeck

Goodreads rating: 3.9

Attaining the greatest positive response of any of his works up to that time, Steinbeck’s novella was chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection before it was published. Praise for the work came from many notable critics, including Maxine Garrard (Enquirer-Sun), Christopher Morley, and Harry Thornton Moore (New Republic). The New York Times critic Ralph Thompson described the novella as a “grand little book, for all its ultimate melodrama.” Steinbeck won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 for the stark images he created and the memorable characters who stayed with the reader after the last page was turned.

Nevertheless, Of mice and men has been banned countless times throughout the U.S. because of foul language, violence, and racism. This Depression-era tragic tale that was praised for its realism is regularly found in the top one hundred of the banned book list published by the American Library Association because of racism, profanity, foul language, violence. And people thought it was unsuited for the age group it was being taught to. Also, because it was seen to be promoting euthanasia.

In the U.S., this book has been challenged many times with various outcomes. Some places were: Newtown High School, Illinois; Greencastle-Atrium, Pennsylvania; Normal Community High schools, Illinois; Grandville High School, Michigan; Olathe, Kansas; George County, Mississippi…

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest – Ken Kesey

Goodreads rating: 4.2

The story, set in an Oregon asylum, serves as a study of the institutional process and limits of the human mind. It follows the experiences of Randle Patrick McMurphy, who faked insanityin order to serve out his prison sentence in the easy, laid-back comforts of a mental hospital- or so he thought. With little medical oversight, the hospital ward is run by the tyrannical Nurse Ratched, her three black day-shift orderlies, and her assistant doctors.

TIME magazine included the novel in its “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005” list. In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC’s The Big Read poll of the UK’s 200 “best-loved novels.”

The list of challenges and approved removals covered states across the nation between the late-1970’s and the close of the century. Just a few of the examples: residents of Strongsville, Ohio; public schools in Randolph, New York, and Alton, Oklahoma; Westport, Maine; St. Anthony, Idaho Freemont High School…

Schindler’s Ark / Schindler’s List – Thomas Keneally

Goodreads rating: 4.2

A mesmerizing novel, the book tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi Party member who turns into an unlikely hero by saving 1,200 Jews from concentration camps all over Poland and Germany. It is a work of historical fiction which describes actual people and places with fictional events, dialogue and scenes added by the author and reconstructed dialogue where exact details are unknown.

The book was banned in Lebanon for its positive depiction of Jews.

Sophie’s choice – William Styron

Goodreads rating: 4.2

Sophie’s choice won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1980. But it generated significant controversy at time of its publication, in part due to Styron’s decision to portray a non-Jewish victim of the Holocaust and in part due to its explicit sexuality and profanity

The book was banned in South Africa (the author guessed that it might have to do with the sexual explicitness of his novel), censored in the Soviet Union, and banned in Communist Poland for “its unflinching portrait of Polish anti-Semitism. The book was banned in Lebanon for its positive depiction of Jews.

The adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Goodreads rating: 3.8

The adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe first ban of Mark Twain’s American classic in Concord, MA in 1885 called it “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Objections to the book have evolved, but only marginally. Twain’s book is one of the most-challenged of all time and is frequently challenged even today because of its frequent use of the word “nigger.” Otherwise it is alleged the book is “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”

Now it is considered as one of the banned books that shaped America.

The call of the wild – Jack London

Goodreads rating: 3.8

The call of the wild was enormously popular from the moment it was published. The book secured Jack London a place in the canon of American literature. The first printing of 10,000 copies sold out immediately; it is still one of the best known stories written by an American author, and continues to be read and taught in schools. It has been published in 47 languages.

Generally hailed as Jack London’s best work, The call of the wild is commonly challenged for its dark tone and bloody violence. Because it is seen as a man-and-his-dog story, it is sometimes read by adolescents and subsequently challenged for age-inappropriateness.

The book was banned in Italy, Yugoslavia and burned in bonfires in Nazi Germany in the late 1920s and early 30s because it was considered “too radical.”

The catcher in the rye – J.D. Salinger

Goodreads rating: 3.8


This book was originally published in 1951 and is still highly in demand. The Guardian thinks “this book expands your horizons on how and what a typical troubled teenager thinks”.

Although this book is a classic, it is banned in many schools around the world due to its emphasis on controversial topics including underage drinking, inappropriate swear words and excessive smoking.

One thing that sets The catcher in the rye apart from other similar novels is the fairly frequent use of profanity –  be warned! There isn’t enough time to edit out all the examples of the expression “f*** you” being used in this one. Also banned because it promotes youthful rebellion and disrespect of authority. Catcher in the Rye was the book that guy was reading when he shot and killed John Lennon.

The color purple – Alice Walker

Goodreads rating: 4.2

The color purple

The color purple tells the story of black life during the 1930s in the Southern United States from a female’s perspective. The Pulitzer Prize winning (1983) novel is told in the form of diary entries and correspondence letters over a 30-year period, following Celie Johnson as she struggles through life. What unfolds is a heart-wrenching story of neglect and abuse.

So how can a touching and heartfelt story, admired by millions, be at the mercy of the censor’s axe? The list of charges includes homosexuality, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.

Nearly every year since its publication it has made headlines for literary merit; yet those merits have been shadowed by challenges in schools and academic institutions

In 1984 it was decided that an Oakland, California high school honors class was not intellectually mature enough to study the work due to its “sexual and social explicitness, and troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.” A divided Oakland Board of Education finally gave its approval for the book’s use after 9 months of squabbling.

Other cases of challenge or reject for purchase are in: Hayward, California school’s trustee; Hayward, California school’s trustee; public libraries in Saginaw, Michigan; Ten Sleep, Wyoming schools; Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Connecticut; the St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine, Florida; the Round Rock, Texas Independent High School; the Northwest High Schools in High Point, North Carolina; Souderton, Pennsylvania School District (permanently banned)…

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

Goodreads rating: 3.8

Perhaps the fault of this fiction is that it appears so real! The Da Vinci Code provoked a popular interest in speculation concerning the Holy Grail legend and Mary Magdalene’s role in the history of Christianity.

The novel nonetheless became a worldwide bestseller that sold 80 million copies as of 2009 and has been translated into 44 languages.

This book was banned in September 2004 in Lebanon after Catholic leaders deemed it offensive to Christianity.

The grapes of wrath – John Steinbeck

Goodreads rating: 3.9

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

Objections raised against this book cross the spectrum from foul language and communist implications to religious themes and sexuality. Since its publication in 1939, the novel has been banned in Kern County, California; St Louis, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; Kansas City, Missouri; Kanawha, IA; and Anniston, Alabama. It has been challenged in more places than that both nationally and internationally. The case even went before Congress, where Oklahoma representative Lyle Boren of Oklahoma denounced the novel as “a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.”

The handmaid’s tale – Margaret Atwood

Goodreads rating: 4.1

The book – which won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for English language fiction and the British Arthur C. Clarke Award and was nominated for the Booker Prize – has always been popular.

On the other hand, the novel has faced steady challenges in the U.S., mostly in high schools, since it was published. A list of examples of the language that’s been used to object to it: “Profanity; lurid passages about sex; statements defamatory to minorities, god, women and the disabled; violence; hopelessness; age-inappropriate; graphic sex; vulgar; offensive to Christians; violently graphic and morally corrupt.”

The king never smiles – Paul M. Handley

Goodreads rating: 3.8

The book preface states that “Any journalist or academic who takes an interest in Thailand soon learns that one topic is off-limit: the modern monarchy”. The author should know well.

This is an unauthorized biography of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej by Paul M. Handley, a freelance journalist who lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Thailand. It is published by Yale University Press and was released in 2006. Not only is the book a very good read, it is also highly informative. The author orientates his reader by presenting essential historical facts. In particular, he traces events from between the World Wars to the premature death of King Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII, on the 9th of June, 1946.

The book was banned in Thailand before publication, and the Thai authorities have blocked local access to websites advertising the book. In a statement dated 19 January 2006, Thai National Police Chief General Kowit Wattana said the book has “contents which could affect national security and the good morality of the people.”

On 19 July 2006, ThaiDay, an English-language Thai paper, reported that the Thai government made great efforts to suppress the book, even contacting former American president George H. Bush and the president of Yale University, Richard C. Levin, to enlist their help.

In February 2007, the Chula Book Centre, the main bookstore of state-run Chulalongkorn University, removed Chulalongkorn University professor Giles Ungphakorn’s 2007 book A coup for the rich from its shelves after a manager of the book store found that it listed The king never smiles as a reference.

The pianist – Władysław Szpilman

Goodreads rating: 4.2

The last live broadcast on Polish Radio, on September 23, 1939, was Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor, played by a young pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman (1911-2000), until his playing was interrupted by German shelling. It was the same piece and the same pianist, when broadcasting resumed six years later. The pianist is Szpilman’s account of the years inbetween, of the death and cruelty inflicted on the Jews of Warsaw and on Warsaw itself, related with a dispassionate restraint borne of shock.

Szpilman originally published his account in Poland in 1946, but it was almost immediately withdrawn by Stalin’s Polish minions as it unashamedly described collaborations by Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews with the Nazis. In 1997 it was published in Germany after Szpilman’s son found it on his father’s bookcase.

A 1950 Polish film based on the book was heavily censored by the Communist government.

Two years after Szpilman’s death, Roman Polanski’s The pianist (2002) won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and the following year three Academy Awards (Adapted Screenplay, Actor and Director), and BAFTA Awards for best film and best directing.

The picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Goodreads rating: 4.1

This is a philosophical novel first published complete in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Fearing the story was indecent, the magazine’s editor without Wilde’s knowledge deleted roughly five hundred words before publication. Despite that censorship, The picture of Dorian Gray offended the moral sensibilities of British book reviewers, some of whom said that Oscar Wilde merited prosecution for violating the laws guarding the public morality. In response, Wilde aggressively defended his novel and art in correspondence with the British press, although he personally made excisions of some of the most controversial material when revising and lengthening the story for book publication the following year.

The longer and revised version of The picture of Dorian Gray published in book form in 1891 featured an aphoristic preface—a defence of the artist’s rights and of art for art’s sake—based in part on his press defences of the novel the previous year. The content, style, and presentation of the preface made it famous in its own right, as a literary and artistic manifesto. In April 1891, the publishing firm of Ward, Lock and Company, who had distributed the shorter, more inflammatory, magazine version in England the previous year, published the revised version of The picture of Dorian Gray.

In 2011, the Belknap Press published The picture of Dorian Gray: An annotated, uncensored edition, and it is the only novel written by Wilde.

The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie

Goodreads rating: 4.1

This book has become very well-known but you should be careful before you want to possess it, depending on where you will read it.

The book is banned in the following countries for alleged blasphemy against Islam: Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand.

To kill a mockingbird – Harper Lee

Goodreads rating: 4.3

To kill a mocking bird 3According to The Guardian: “To kill a mockingbird will never stop being a good book, and it will never stop inspiring good people”.

A school board’s decision to remove To kill a mockingbird from eighth grade curriculums in Biloxi, Mississippi, is the latest in a long line of attempts to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. Since its publication in 1960, the novel about a white lawyer’s defense of a black man against a false rape charge by a white woman has become one of the most frequently challenged books in the U.S.

It has been banned across America for “racial slurs” and for “promoting white supremacy.” Also because a parent thought the way “blacks are treated by members of [the] white community in a way that would upset black children.”

Into the 1970s and 1980s, school boards and parents continued to challenge the book for its “filthy” or “trashy” content and racial slurs. Over time, attempts to ban the book shifted from removing it from school libraries, as was the case in Hanover, to removing the book from school curriculums.

Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

Goodreads rating: 3.7

Now hailed as an American classic, Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller’s masterpiece, was banned as obscene in the U.S. for twenty-seven years after its first publication in Paris in 1934. Only a historic court ruling that changed American censorship standards, ushering in a new era of freedom and frankness in modern literature, permitted the publication of this first volume of Miller’s famed mixture of memoir and fiction, which chronicles with unapologetic gusto the bawdy adventures of a young expatriate writer, his friends, and the characters they meet in Paris in the 1930s.

This book was also banned in South Africa until the late 1980s.

Tropic of Cancer is now considered, as Norman Mailer said, “one of the ten or twenty great novels of our century.”

Ulysses – James Joyce

Goodreads rating: 3.7

As James Topham on ThoughtCo. puts it, “Ulysses by  James Joyce holds a very special place in the history of English literature. The novel is one of the greatest masterpieces of modernist literature.”

Apparently some authorities did not think so. The U.S. and England both banned and burned this book in the early 1900s, for sexual content.

United States. Committees such as the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice successfully worked toward the banning of Ulysses after an excerpt in which the main character pleasured himself was published. It was thus considered contraband in America for over a decade until the landmark obscenity court case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses in 1933 lifted the ban.

The United Kingdom similarly banned the novel until the mid-1930s for its explicit sexuality and graphic depiction of bodily functions.

Australia, however, enforced the novel’s suppression on-and-off from its publication until the mid-1950s.

Uncle Tom’s cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Goodreads rating: 3.8

Uncle Tom drawing.jpg

Uncle Tom’s cabin tells the story of Uncle Tom, depicted as a saintly, dignified slave. While being transported by boat to auction in New Orleans, Tom saves the life of Little Eva, whose grateful father then purchases Tom. Eva and Tom soon become great friends.

An abolitionist novel, he book achieved wide popularity, particularly among white readers in the North, by vividly dramatizing the experience of slavery.

This novel sold 300,000 copies within three months after its publication, and was so widely read that when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, he reportedly said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”

This book was banned in the South during the Civil War because of its anti-slavery content.

In 1852, the book was banned in Russia under the reign of Nicholas I because of the idea of equality it presented, and for its “undermining religious ideals.”

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance – Robert Pirsig

Goodreads rating: 3.8

Few books transform a generation and then establish themselves as touchstones for the generations that follow. Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance is one such book.

This modern epic of a man’s search for meaning became an instant bestseller on publication in 1974, acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters. It continues to inspire millions. An autobiography of the mind and body, this book is a deceptively simple narration about a motorcycle trip taken by a father and his eleven-year-old son; a summer junket that confronts mortal truths on the journey of life.

Few readers know that, years in the writing, this book was rejected by 121 publishers. So readers should thank the 122nd publisher!

До́ктор Жива́го (Doctor Zhivago) – Boris Pasternak

Goodreads rating: 4.0

Due to the author’s independent-minded stance on the October Revolution, Doctor Zhivago was refused publication in the Soviet Union. The manuscript was smuggled to Milan and published in 1957. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the following year, an event which embarrassed and enraged the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Pasternak was not only threatened with arrest, but the KGB also vowed to send his mistress Olga Ivinskaya back to the gulag, where she had been imprisoned under Stalin. It was further hinted that, if Pasternak traveled to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Medal, he would be refused re-entry to the Soviet Union.

As a result, Pasternak sent a second telegram to the Nobel Committee: “In view of the meaning given the award by the society in which I live, I must renounce this undeserved distinction which has been conferred on me. Please do not take my voluntary renunciation amiss.”

The Swedish Academy announced: “This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place.”

Despite his decision to decline the award, the Soviet Union of Writers continued to denounce Pasternak in the Soviet press. Furthermore, he was threatened at the very least with formal exile to the West. In response, Pasternak wrote directly to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, “Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work.”

Boris Pasternak continued to be pilloried by the Soviet State until Mikhail Gorbachev proclaimed Perestroika during the 1980s.

In 1988, after decades of circulating in Samizdat, Doctor Zhivago was serialized in the literary journal Novy Mir, which had changed to a more anti-communist position than in Pasternak’s lifetime. The following year, Yevgeny Borisovich Pasternak was at last permitted to travel to Stockholm to collect his father’s Nobel Medal.

The most famous adaptation is the 1965 film adaptation by David Lean, featuring the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif as Zhivago and English actress Julie Christie as Lara, with Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya and Alec Guinness as Yevgraf. The film was commercially successful and won five Oscars. Currently, it is widely considered to be a classic popular film

Как закалялась сталь! (How the steel was tempered!) – Nikolai Ostrovsky

Goodreads rating: 3.8

This is a socialist realist novel in which Pavel (“Pavka”) Korchagin is the central character. He is fighting on the Bolsheviks’ side in the Civil War (1918–1921). He is a quintessential positive hero of socialist realism. Tonia Toumanova is Pavel’s teenage love. Tonia and Pavel became good friends after their first encounter, which later develops into an intimate relationship. Though born of a wealthy and influential family, Tonia treated everyone equally unlike her friends, who only interact with other children of well-reputed families. However, this changed as she grew up, as she became more aware of her appearance and social status of others.

The first part of How the steel was tempered was published serially in 1932 in the magazine Young Guard. The second part of the novel appeared in the same magazine from January to May, 1934. The novel was published in 1936 in book form in a heavily edited version that conformed to the rules of socialist realism. In the serial version Ostrovsky had described the tense atmosphere of Pavel’s home, his suffering when he became an invalid, the deterioration of his relationship with his wife, and their separation. All of this disappeared in the 1936 publication and in later editions of the novel.

Оди́н день Ива́на Дени́совича Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha (One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich) – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Goodreads rating: 4.0

Often considered the most powerful indictment of the USSR’s gulag ever made, this book appeared on the Independent newspaper’s poll of the Top 100 books, which surveyed more than 25,000 people.

First published in November 1962, the book’s publication was an extraordinary event in Soviet literary history since never before had an account of Stalinist repression been openly distributed.

The book was from publication in the Soviet Union in 1964. In 1968, Solzhenitsyn was accused by the Literary Gazette, a Soviet newspaper, of not following Soviet principles.

Concluding remarks

Consider yourself lucky if you can read a book you love, because you read it not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the other hand, when you travel, be careful with the books you pack in your suitcase. One outstanding example is that never bring along The Sanatic verses when you go to an Islamic country, or any book published outside Vietnam by Dương Thu Hương when you are in Vietnam, or the book The king never smiles when you go to Thailand.

Compiled by Diep Minh Tam



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