Monday, September 18, 2006

Banned books in Malaysia

I recently chanced upon Bibliobibuli, a delightful books blog run by Sharon Bakar ("British but have lived in Malaysia for more than 20 years and very much at home here").

Among the many interesting subjects on the blog that caught my eye: "restricted" (ie, banned) books. A recent sample of restricted titles, with commentary by Sharon:

Another restricted novel - copies of The Marriage Market by Nisha Minhas bound for Malaysia prior to its October launch date were seized at Johor Bahru customs. As usual the letter (which I've seen) from the JB branch of the Kemetarian Dalam Negeri gave no reason at all.

Okay people, let's puzzle this. What could possibly be so abhorent about this piece of teen-fiction that Malaysians shouldn't be allowed to read it? I'm stumped.

Could it be because it's about a temporary marriage? Could it be because it's about a mixed-race relationship? Could it be the vestigal terror of the mat salleh man stealing our (Asian) women? Could it be because of the cover (the other cover shown here is a tad racier - white legs, brown legs - but still, when did legs become forbidden?)?


This time it's Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe's classic novel about the coming of colonialism to Nigeria.

It's a wonderful book and we used to teach it as part of our B.Ed TESL course. I haven't a clue why it might be deemed unsuitable for a Malaysian readership, have you?


Anthony Burgess' The Long Day Wanes (A Malayan Trilogy) is apparently on the restricted list too.

I have read it. I read it when I first came to Malaysia in 1984, loved it, based my decision to move to Kuala Kangsar ("Kuala Hantu" in the book) on it. Then my reading group chose it as one of the books of the month, a year or two back. They all enjoyed it too. There was no problem in getting copies - they were piled high in all the bookshops.

But a week or two ago, a friend tried Kinokuniya for a copy and was told, sorry the book wasn't available.

There's a more book talk at Bibliobibuli--and most of it is not so dispiriting--so check it out.

--Marshal Zeringue