Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Burgess ... Banned?

Now then, I've talked about books banned in Malaysia in past posts.

Some book bannings have been publicly proclaimed, though never debated.

Other books you don't know are banned until you try to get hold of copies of them and the suppliers tell the bookshop that they aren't allowed to bring in copies. The word used of such books is "restricted". But it amounts to the same thing: you can't get a copy unless you sneak it in to the country.

Sometimes the titles that turn out to be "restricted" don't suprise. I was curious to see if I could order a copy of Belle de Jour's racy Diary of a London Call Girl when I was writing a feature on "blooks". Of course you can't. Restricted. (Though available online.)

Some "restricted" books surprise. All Khalil Gibran's books are on this list. (Phek Chin of Silverfish asked the supplier "What if Gibran had written a cookbook, would that be banned too?" Silly question. Of course it would be.)

But right now I'm utterly, totally, absolutely gobsmacked.

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.

Restricted.

I heard the same story yesterday evening from Phek Chin at Silverfish after she'd tried to order a copy for a customer.

Restricted.

I'm just waiting to hear from Renee at MPH, but think I know the answer already.

Burgess isn't complimentary about the Malays, it's true. Or the Chinese. Or the Indians. Or the Orang Asli. Or even, come to think of it, the beer-swigging, incompetent British.

But there's more than a grain of truth packed into this colourful piece of satire, and surely this is one of the most important novels written about this country.

Are we honestly not allowed to read it? And by extension ... are Malaysia's own novelists (present and future) also condemned to writing platitudinous prose that does not step on anyone's toes?

It's fifty years since the first part of the trilogy, Time for a Tiger appeared, just on the cusp of Independence, and there are plans afoot (about which I can say nothing as yet) to honour Burgess as both writer and teacher in the coming months.

We'd like The Malayan Trilogy unrestricted as soon as possible, please.

Related Post

Burgess Biographied 30/10/05

33 comments:

sympozium said...

Another nail in the coffin for a forward-thinking and tolerant Malaysia. That's what we'll all mourn on Merdeka Day. So ironic - on Independence Day we'll celebrate the loss of freedom.

That's shocking and disturbing and infuriating news. Burgess managed to capture the spirit of Malaya and its peoples (and the Brits) well, I thought. So what if all the races didn't come out well under his pen? I'm sure many of us had wry but good-natured smiles while reading the book.

By the way, there's a good program on TV3 (never ever thought I'd use "good program" and "TV3" together in a sentence!) on Mondays 7 p.m. - a doucmentary series on the Emergency, "Jungle Green, Khaki Brown". The spin-off book is that massive hardcover book recently seen on the shelves.

nyx said...

no wonder i couldn't find it! i was looking all over the place last week, even called up all the major bookstores and secondhand stores

it used to be everywhere and i didn't buy it.... sigh....

sympozium said...

You can get it in more tolerant countries like Singapore and Thailand :-) Probably get it at the Junk Book Shop in Leboh Ampang in KL as well...

animah said...

Sympozium, not sure where you've been - celebrating the loss of freedom on Independence Day? We lost it a long time ago. Also rather perplexed by your reference to Singapore as a tolerant country.

I don't think Malaysian writers should self censor. We need to keep hacking and hacking away at this restriction. If enough writers are bold to say what everyone is thinking anyway, then we're making progress.

Ted Mahsun said...

Who restricts these books anyway? I need names to mock! Should we start with Rais Yatim?

The Great Swifty said...

Unrelated again, I know, but... Oh my, Sharon, check out these library photos! So... so... beautiful.

animah said...

Ted,

Banned books are gazetted under the Publication & Printing Presses Act. I once sent Sharon a long list of them. The Minister in charge is Minister of Home Affairs. Not sure if its Badawi or Khalid whatsit (husband of Wanita Melayu Tercantik). Rais has very few laws under him, the new Heritage Act is one of them.

I'm not sure who recommends that books be banned and whether it goes through some committee. I'm curious though and will find out. Ministers of course rarely make decisions, they are advised by their ministry officials.

Anyway Sharon, this is something PEN will have to understand inside out.

sympozium said...

If you look at Lee Kuan Yew's latest statement about turning Singapore into the "Paris of the East"...and I've always been able to obtain titles in Singapore AND Bangkok even though Malaysia has banned or restricted them. I'd haveto say the arts scene in Singapore is much more tolerant.

Ted Mahsun said...

Thanks animah. I had a feeling this was going to be complicated... but at least now I know who to zone in on. Do tell us if you find out who has the power to ban books. Wonder if it's the same committee that bans films? A bunch of old datuks deciding what's good for the people.

madcap machinist said...

I second the motion to unrestrict The Malayan Trilogy as soon as possible. (want to read it) Plus all the other books.

This burying of heads in the sands cannot continue.

It appears from sympozium and animah's comments that I was contemplating Merdeka Day in the same light. But of course... so are so many others.

But then, I've been reading some juicy titles about the events of the English revolution these past weeks, Cromwell etc. -- so I'm already in a bloody frame of mind.

sympozium said...

Afternoon Sharon. Your email's "over-quota" again :-)

nyx said...

i just came back from junk bookstore
they had two copies, i bought one
there's another one there left, so hurry!

bibliobibuli said...

thanks sympozium - fixed now

i'm thinking wtf - because i just ordered a copy online from kino! they are saying one thing to some customers when they ask for the book in the shop and another when they want to buy online ... more investigation needed

nyx - good for you! if nothing else good comes of this at least i made you rush out and buy it

machinist - in a bloody frmae of mind? oh goodness, whoever has the temerity to ban books should be very afraid of you!

sifty - please continue to send great stuff. this is great and i will front page it soon as i have a moment

animah - thanks for elucidation and shrieks of moral outrage! let's get to the bottom of this mystery ... and i agree about PEN - this would be one of the first battles to fight - clarification about why titles are 'restricted' and actually quite what restricted means

rol said...

Just found out, this book has disappered from my college's library catalogue. Used to be there, I know because I looked.

sympozium said...

Ah, PEN will have its task cut out for it, but no fear: we all know the PENis mightier than the sword :-)))))

Chet said...

Following swifty's example ...

Me, me! I have a great library picture for you, too, Sharon, and it's here:

Books in the Light

It's something you'll probably identify with, Sharon. And the great thing is ... I have a 5x7 notecard of the picture that I bought for you. I've got it, and all you have to do is let me know when I can come over with it.

You can sneak a peek at your card here:

Box of Kindness

The Visitor said...

erm, why u wana investigate when u can order online? OK wat. erm, i really donch understand!

Chet said...

Maybe because she wants to feel the book and make sure it's the right one she's buying? With online, sometimes you never know. It arrives, you open the package, and it's not what you ordered - how?

bibliobibuli said...

visitor - because 1) it's a matter of principle - how dare anyone dictate what we can and cannot read. 2) because i like a scrap when i feel i have the moral upperhand 3)because we will be doing readings and organising activities around the book and we will need multiple copies of it!

chet very many thanks - i love the picture!

Anonymous said...

I bought a copy from MPH a couple months ago.
Haven't read it yet ....
I think Malaysia bans anything half-heartedly though.
You can get a lot of books that are supposedly banned at Kino.

-the wandering stranger Chee.

bibliobibuli said...

hi chee - yes, i think you're right about the half-heartedness - but i don't think we should shrug with resignation

i demand total clarification!!!!

was thinking - maybe the copy that kino does have came in from the US via a different distributor?

sympozium said...

My visits to Kino (and I'm there almost every day) make me think that the edition Kino brings in is the UK Vintage edition, the one with the green cover of the Malayan jungle. Kino had "The Long Day Wanes" once, many months ago, but since then before the ban, the Vintage edition is the only one I've seen on its shelves.
Karen Armstrong's Battle For God is still there though.

bibliobibuli said...

i am making phone calls this afternoon and hope to have some news soon)i'm a terror when i get angry about something!)

the picure of the edition in kino was of the much nicer american edition which of course would not come through the local distributor (pansing)

i know that most books in the bookshops here come from the uk

sympozium said...

I've always preferred UK editions. Didn't like the US cover for Burgess's book...

sympozium said...

"I'm a terror when I get angry about something..."

Mad dogs and enraged Englishwomen??? :-)))))))))))

bibliobibuli said...

i prefer american paperbacks - not so stiff, better paper, usually larger print

sympozium - you really do not want to meet me when i'm angry, i'm very scarey

sympozium said...

:-))) You sound like Dr. Bruce Banner before he turns into the Hulk - "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." :-)))))

bibliobibuli said...

the comparison is quite apt

Anonymous said...

Y'know.. sometimes I think books are banned because people don't want to read it, they're in denial and can't handle the unpleasant truths. I've lost count of the number of people who want to censor (and censure) me because I tell the truth, however unpleasant it may be. And you know what, it's the PEOPLE that want to do that to me, not the government. We're all condemned to writing platitudinous prose because people have sacred cows that should not be slaughtered. It's just that the sacred cows are different for everyone. I mean, first you say we have to respect other people's feelings, then you say we should write the truth, however many toes we step on. I don't think you can have it both ways. Sometimes the truth is unpleasant, and people have a strange tendency to be hurt by unpleasant truths.

So with all due respect, Ms. B, I think maybe you should decide once and for all whether you support censorship (which means no one gets hurt because no toes will be allowed to be stepped on) or you don't (which means some unpleasant truths will have to be spoken, which means some toes are going to be really sore.)

Actually, _I_ feel bad writing this, so I just hurt my own feelings writing it :) But the truth is the truth, and like you said, we have to say it, if we smile and pretend it doesn't exist it doesn't go away. If you pretend it doesn't exist it doesn't go away.

So let me know what your stand is on blog posts. If you feel that no toes should be stepped on, then perhaps you shouldn't be stepping on any, and I will do likewise. I will be hurt (and no doubt you as well) but it's your blog, so it's up to you. But for the sake of freedom on the Internet (and to support the only country that's ever put that freedom in writing) I'd like to be allowed to speak the truth, no matter how unpleasant it is and how many squashed toes that might result in, and would very much like the same for you, and every other writer on the planet.

My one and only standard is this : that it is true. However unpleasant a truth may be, it is still a truth, and as such deserves to be said. There should be no "sacred cows".

Having said that, sometimes I do say things that are wrong (like that "like everyone else" post) for which I humbly apologize and promise that it will not recur.

Once again, I'm sorry about how all this sounds. I know feelings are going to be hurt. But you have to understand, it's either that or platitudinous prose. I thought long and hard about it, and almost didn't write it. I have to force myself to post this now, so I will.

bibliobibuli said...

anonymous - i'm not censoring you, y'know. i've only deleted one comment since my blog began and that was obscene language and very personal. (put up by a deranged american woman.) most of the time i appreciate your contributions. it's just that i'm asking you to think of the feelings of others and not be so attacking. is that so bad? friends get hurt by your posts sometimes ...

Jonathan said...

I bought the Malayan Trilogy in KL the other day. They also had a copy under the original title of The Long Day Wanes - bot in Kinokuniya, or whatever its called. You can buy them both in Singapore too.

Nana said...

I bought it recently too, from Times Bookstore. Maybe the ban was lifted?

bibliobibuli said...

The book was never officially banned which makes it confusing, but it was confiscated/restricted. (and then only under the british title). then quite silently the book was back in the bookshop after we kicked up noise.