This month's task is to read a book that caused scandal or major controversy when it was released. We're talking widespread bans, major social outrage, protests, governmental or religious condemnation, the author being prosecuted, arrested or exiled for its writing, etc. You'll see what we mean from the examples below (which, as usual, are suggestions - you can read something else as long as it fits the task). Try not to pick a book that has merely caused criticism or that was "challenged" by a single random public school in the US.
The scandal can also be related to the author or the publication of the book itself, for example, the book being a hoax or the author being a scammer or other kind of criminal (e.g. James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces").
THE SATANIC VERSES (Salman Rushdie)SUMMARY: Just before dawn one winter’s morning, a hijacked aeroplane blows apart high above the English Channel and two figures tumble, clutched in an embrace, towards the sea: Gibreel Farishta, India’s legendary movie star, and Saladin Chamcha, the man of a thousand voices. Washed up, alive, on an English beach, their survival is a miracle. But there is a price to pay. Gibreel and Saladin have been chosen as opponents in the eternal wrestling match between Good and Evil. But chosen by whom? And which is which? And what will be the outcome of their final confrontation?
THE SCANDAL: Partly inspired by the life of Muhammed, this Booker Prize finalist caused major controversy, as some Muslims accused it of blasphemy and mocking their faith. Ayatollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa on 14 February 1989 calling for the death of Rushdie and his publishers. This resulted in several failed assassination attempts on Rushdie, and attacks on several connected individuals. The Italian and Norwegian translators were seriously injured, the Turkish translator was the target of arsonists who killed 37 people while trying to get him, and the Japanese translator was stabbed to death. The fatwa against Rushdie still exists, and the bounty on his head was even raised in 2016 (it is now over 3 million dollars).
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WILD SWANS (Jung Chang)SUMMARY: An engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiring tale of courage and love, Jung Chang describes the extraordinary lives and experiences of her family members: her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine; her mother’s struggles as a young idealistic Communist; and her parents’ experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. Chang was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen, then worked as a peasant, a “barefoot doctor,” a steelworker, and an electrician. As the story of each generation unfolds, Chang captures in gripping, moving—and ultimately uplifting—detail the cycles of violent drama visited on her own family and millions of others caught in the whirlwind of history.
THE SCANDAL: The massive best-seller was never published in China and it is still banned there. In fact, all of Jung Chang’s books are banned in China, and she is herself banned from entering the country, except for two weeks in the year to visit her elderly mother. All this is due to the author’s political biographies (such as of Mao) and for the author’s portrayal of modern China, which is not aligned with the official "history" propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party.SOURCES 1 2 3
BRICK LANE (Monica Ali)SUMMARY: Still in her teenage years, Nazneen finds herself in an arranged marriage with a disappointed man who is twenty years older. Away from the mud and heat of her Bangladeshi village, home is now a cramped flat in a high-rise block in London's East End. Nazneen knows not a word of English, and is forced to depend on her husband. But unlike him she is practical and wise, and befriends a fellow Asian girl Razia, who helps her understand the strange ways of her adopted new British home. Nazneen keeps in touch with her sister Hasina back in the village. But the rebellious Hasina has kicked against cultural tradition and run off in a 'love marriage' with the man of her dreams. When he suddenly turns violent, she is forced into the degrading job of garment girl in a cloth factory. Confined in her flat by tradition and family duty, Nazneen also sews furiously for a living, shut away with her buttons and linings - until the radical Karim steps unexpectedly into her life. On a background of racial conflict and tension, they embark on a love affair that forces Nazneen finally to take control of her fate.
THE SCANDAL: Although a best-seller and well-received by critics (it was shortlisted for the Man Booker), the publication of Brick Lane (and the subsequent movie adaptation) caused controversy among the Bangladeshi community in Britain, some of whose members felt that they were negatively portrayed in the work and considered it offensive. Protests were organized against the book and against Monica Ali in particular. There was a lot of media coverage. Due to the controversy, it was not possible to shoot the film on location, and Prince Charles skipped the Royal Film Performance (a charity gala where the film would be screened) for fear of the protests. It was the first time in over 50 years of the event when such a thing happened. Ali was supported by Salman Rushdie during the controversy.
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SUMMARY: One rainy afternoon in Istanbul a woman walks into a doctor's surgery. 'I want an abortion', she announces. She is nineteen years old, and unmarried. What happens that afternoon is to change her life, and the lives of everyone around her. Twenty years later, Asya Kazanci lives with her extended family in Istanbul. Due to a mysterious family curse all the men die by age 41, so it is a house of women, among them her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha, clairvoyant Auntie Banu and bar-brawl widow, Auntie Cevriye. But when Asya's Armenian-American cousin Armanoush comes to stay, long-hidden family secrets and Turkey's turbulent past begin to emerge.
THE SCANDAL: The best-selling author Elif Shafak was prosecuted in her home country of Turkey for having a character of Armenian descent in the book use the word “genocide” in reference to the killing of Armenians by Turks in 1915. She faced up to three years in prison for “denigrating Turkishness”, but fortunately the charges were eventually dropped.
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LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER (D.H. Lawrence)SUMMARY: With her soft brown hair, lithe figure and big, wondering eyes, Constance Chatterley is possessed of a certain vitality. Yet she is deeply unhappy; married to an invalid, she is almost as inwardly paralyzed as her husband Clifford is paralyzed below the waist. It is not until she finds refuge in the arms of Mellors the game-keeper, a solitary man of a class apart, that she feels regenerated. Together they move from an outer world of chaos towards an inner world of fulfillment.
THE SCANDAL: One of the most famously scandalous books ever, it was all the explicit sex between a married upper-class lady and a working class man that caused such a hoopla. The book was first published privately in 1928 in Italy, and immediately banned in the UK, where it only appeared in full in 1960, when it became the subject of a huge obscenity trial against the publisher Penguin Books. Penguin won the case, and quickly sold 3 million copies. The book was also banned for obscenity in the United States (1929–59), Canada, Australia, India, and Japan.
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A CASE OF EXPLODING MANGOES (Mohammed Hanif)SUMMARY: There is an ancient saying that when lovers fall out, a plane goes down. This is the story of one such plane. Why did a Hercules C130, the world's sturdiest plane, carrying Pakistan's military dictator General Zia ul Haq, go down on 17 August, 1988? Was it because of:
3.The CIA's impatience
4.A blind woman's curse
5.Generals not happy with their pension plans
6.The mango season
Or could it be your narrator, Ali Shigri?
Teasing, provocative, and very, very funny, Mohammed Hanif's debut novel takes one of the subcontinent's enduring mysteries and out if it spins a tale as rich and colourful as a beggar's dream.
THE SCANDAL: This Commonwealth Prize winner was originally published in 2008, in the English language. It's a satire that revolves around the mysterious death of the Pakistani dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, and deals with themes such as corruption. According to NPR, "Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif used to quip that the reason why his country's intelligence officials hadn't harassed him for lampooning a military dictator was because it could take them years to get the joke". Those words apparently turned out to be quite prophetic, as the author was basically left alone until 2020, when the book was finally translated to Urdu. Then, men claiming to be from Pakistan's feared Inter-Services Intelligence agency raided the Maktaba-e-Danyal publishing house in Karachi, confiscating about 250 copies and demanding to know which bookshops were selling the novel. The men took lists of book distributors and shops stocking the novel. ISI has predictably denied it was them. Hanif says he now believes his novel is "unnoficially banned" as local distributors will no longer stock it. The author was also faced with a defamation suit by Zia's son, for "maligning Gen. Zia's good name".
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THE FAT YEARS (Chan Koonchung)SUMMARY: Beijing, sometime in the near future: a month has gone missing from official records. No one has any memory of it, and no one can care less. Except for a small circle of friends, who will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the sinister cheerfulness and amnesia that has possessed the Chinese nation. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they learn - not only about their leaders, but also about their own people - stuns them to the core. It is a message that will rock the world...
THE SCANDAL: "The Fat Years" was never published in Mainland China, where it's banned because it invokes the collective, state-imposed amnesia of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, a taboo subject. Mainland Chinese readers interested in the book have to obtain their copies from Taiwan or Hong Kong, or download a pirated version (if they can find one before the censors delete it). Despite the difficulties, the dystopian novel has found an audience underground in China - and abroad, where it was translated to 14 languages.
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THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER (Goethe)SUMMARY: Visiting an idyllic German village, Werther, a sensitive and romantic young man, meets and falls in love with sweet-natured Lotte. Although he realizes that Lotte is to marry Albert, he is unable to subdue his passion for her, and his infatuation torments him to the point of absolute despair.
THE SCANDAL: This very popular novel started the phenomenon known as the "Werther Fever", which caused young men throughout Europe to dress in the clothing style described for Werther in the novel. But that was not all these young men were copying: the book reputedly also led to a wave of copycat suicides. The men were often dressed in the same clothing "as Goethe's description of Werther and using similar pistols." Often the book was found at the scene of the suicide. This aspect of "Werther Fever" was watched with concern by the authorities – both the novel and the Werther clothing style were banned in Leipzig in 1775; the novel was also banned in Denmark and Italy.SOURCES 1 2
SUMMARY: Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal world. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver does he begin to understand the dark secrets behind this fragile community.
THE SCANDAL: The Giver is among the most challenged books in American schools. The most frequently cited reason for a challenge - that is, an attempt to remove the book - is that The Giver is unsuited for its age group. In 1994, a year after its publication, the book was temporarily banned in California after parents complained of violence and sexual passages. In 1995, students in Montana had to obtain parental permission to read The Giver after it was challenged due to the book’s mentioning of infanticide and euthanasia.
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SUMMARY: When Dorothy and her little dog Toto are caught in a tornado, they and their Kansas farmhouse are suddenly transported to Oz, where Munchkins live, monkeys fly and Wicked Witches rule. Desperate to return home, and with the Wicked Witch of the West on their trail, Dorothy and Toto - together with new friends the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and cowardly Lion - embark on a fantastic quest along the Yellow Brick Road in search of the Emerald City. There they hope to meet the legendary, all-powerful Wizard of Oz, who alone may hold the power to grant their every wish.
THE SCANDAL: L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, caused controversy over the course of many decades for various reasons, including depicting a strong female character and portraying good witches. The Chicago Public Library banned the book in 1928, as did the Detroit Public LIbrary in the 1950s, which didn’t lift the ban until 1972. In the 70s and 80s, the book was at the center of lawsuits against public schools in Tennessee by religious fundamentalists. Their opposition to the novel included the reasons stated above, and additionally because animals were personified and elevated to the status of humans.
The judge ruled that parents were allowed to have their children removed from the classroom when the book was being discussed.
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MADAME BOVARY (Gustave Flaubert)
SUMMARY: Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent devourer of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment, and when real life continues to fail to live up to her romantic expectations, the consequences are devastating.
THE SCANDAL: "Madame Bovary" was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, where it was already under a sort of voluntary censorship in order to escape the official State censorship. Author and publisher agreed to remove certain passages and replace them with a note that read: “Here the editors found it necessary to suppress a passage unsuitable to the policies of the Revue de Paris; we hereby acknowledge this to the author.” This, however was not enough to placate the French government and Flaubert was charged with offending public morality. At his trial on 29 January, 1857, the prosecution argued that Emma Bovary's joy in committing adultery was reprehensible and that reading Flaubert's work would inevitably lead to the decay of public decency. After Flaubert's acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary was published in its entirety and became a bestseller in the same year, when it was published in two volumes. In the United Kingdom Madame Bovary featured on a secret government blacklist. Home Office files show that during the 1950s, chief constables were instructed to purchase, seize, then burn any copies they found.
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THE COLOR PURPLE (Alice Walker)
SUMMARY: A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience. The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.
THE SCANDAL: The novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, has been frequently challenged in schools since 1984, and also banned or removed in public libraries. Commonly cited justifications for banning the book include sexual explicitness, explicit language, violence, and homosexuality. The novel is 17th on the American Library Association’s list of most frequently challenged or banned books. Since 2017, the state of Texas has censored The Color Purple in its prisons.
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SUMMARY: Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in "the best of all possible worlds." On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher's immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that -- contrary to the teachings of his distinguished tutor Dr. Pangloss -- all is not always for the best. Alive with wit, brilliance, and graceful storytelling, Candide has become Voltaire's most celebrated work.
THE SCANDAL: Published in 1759, Voltaire's "Candide" was banned by the Catholic Church. Bishop Etienne Antoine wrote: "We prohibit, under canonical law, the printing or sale of these books..." Condemned by the French government and the Catholic Church. Banned in France and Geneva. Deemed obscene by US Customs until the 1950s. Listed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books.
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SUMMARY: Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.
THE SCANDAL: This debut novel was both popular and critically acclaimed in the United States and England. But O'Brien's frank discussion of young women's sexuality didn't go over so well in her home country of Ireland: not only did the Irish Censor Board ban The Country Girls , her family's parish priest publicly burned three of the few copies that did make it into the country. O’Brien also received numerous malicious anonymous letters. Her mother was said to be ashamed of her daughter for writing “filth”, while O’Brien’s marriage ended because her husband couldn’t cope with her literary success.
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Sources linked throughout post. Thank you to milfordacademy, who did the bulk of the work for this post!!
What will you be reading this month, ONTD? Favorite controversial, scandalous, or banned book?