Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Banned Book of the Day

*sigh* Here we go again.

I heard about this yesterday, confirmed it with the bookshops today.

You apparently aren't allowed to buy Gregory David Roberts' book Shantaram.

I lifted this description of the novel from, which has links to the newspapers which reviewed it:
Shantaram is the fictionalized account of the real life adventures of author Gregory David Roberts. The narrator is a man called Lin, escaped from an Australian jail and arriving in Bombay, India with a fake New Zealand passport. He immediately meets a taxi driver named Prabaker who gives him tours of the city and a hut in the local slum. Lin starts a free clinic for the people in the slum, and to provide for his own income, he sells drugs to tourists. This gets him the attention of the local gangsters, and he's increasingly pulled into their world of crime, from counterfeiting to gun running to passport schemes. Lin falls in love, nearly dies in an Indian prison, and survives a continuing series of adventures. More than just an account of drugs and crime, Shantaram is the story of a man who, even in a life of violence, genuinely loves those in his life and the city that became his home, Bombay. Shantaram has received positive reviews with The Telegraph saying, "Shantaram is an exuberant, swashbuckling story of derring-do, told with reckless gusto and obvious affection, and if Roberts is no sort of stylist (and he isn't), you'd have to be a snob not to admit to enjoying yourself."
So exactly why has the novel got up the nose of the thought police ... sorry the Kementarian Dalam Negeri?

The book was in the shops and apparently selling well. (I seem to remember someone telling me that it was a best seller in Singapore). Friends who bought it told me it was a book i have to read. Sheila Singham reviewed it very favourably in The Edge. As far as I know it provoked no riots or street demonstrations, didn't have a negative effect on the moral mindset of teenagers, stirred no shrieks of outrage among the reading population of the metropolis. Perhaps it is the references to drugs the authorities have taken exception to. (But if that's the case shouldn't other books with references to drugs also disappear e.g Trainspotting, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ... and the poetry of John Keats and Coleridge?)

We know we won't get an official reason out of the KDN.

So would those of you who've read the book like to speculate? I've also dropped a line to the author and invite his response too. Meanwhile, you can go and tour his website and look for further clues.

I'm thinking we should do a public reading from banned books soon.


Deepika's review of Shantaram.

Related Posts:

Index: On Censorship


animah said...

I doubt that the authorities that do the banning actually read all these books. If they couldn't spend a few hours watching The Last Communist, do you imagine they would spend days reading a book?
What I suspect is that they act on a tip off from some member of the public(normally some makcik from Sg Petani) who complains based on some 2 para review or account of the book/film/tv programme/play in page 25 of Utusan or Harian Metro. The complainant would probably use the much bandied excuse (we haven't got much imagination here) about how the book could potentially lead to the degrodation of the morals of our youth and therefore the breakdown of society as a whole (though I think our politicians are doing that of their own accord anyway).
Immortality, heaven forbid, how could anyone other than God be immortal. The title alone is syrik. The Malayan Trilogy - what, a trinity of Malays? Syirik!
And this book, sounds like a Hindu God. Syirik. Syirik!
Of course we need KDN to safeguard the morals of the youth. Our education system is unable to churn out youth who can think, discern and make decisions based on information available. So naturally they would react (given that they only read 2 books a year) on any subversive ideas they read in a book.

Ted Mahsun said...

A day in the life of the KdN man...

0800 - punch in. chat with colleagues.
0900 - go out for drinks. (go out for chat if ramadan)
1300 - return to office. checks to-do list. sleep.
1400 - wake up. sees a bunch of books waiting to be brought in to Malaysia. Remembers restricted quota for the month not yet fulfilled. chats with colleagues.
1500 - realises boxes of books blocking path to toilet. decides to "restrict" some of them. Sex, drugs, alcohol and indians get top priority.
1515 - "restricting" completed. goes to toilet. chats with colleagues afterwards.
1730 - punches out and returns home.

sympozium said...

You left out the Circle-Jerk-Off Sessions, Ted!

Ted Mahsun said...

Oh... well, that happens in the toilet. I think...

Greenbottle said...

i think Sharon is doing a really great job highlighting all these book banning caper by KDN.

May be it's not too bad if we to go a step further. since books can't walk and speak up for themselves i guess a group of concerned parties need to be formed, may be from members of bookshops but especially writers and book lovers.

i don't think kdn guys will get too pissed off if some representatives go to them and talk rationally with may not win but you certainly can make them look stupid.

bibliobibuli said...

animah - i don't think they do get tip-offs. i think ted's theory is closer to the mark. it's the books they notice.

you could object to almost any work of fiction if you set your mind to it, couldn't you? and that's what's frightening ... where does it stop?

when i was talking to malini and daphne at the star yesterday the tern "farenheit 451" (from ray bradbury's famous novel about book burnings)
came up ... we're on the way

greenbottle - we have to make the banners look silly. that's easy.

but i agree about engagement. was talking to dina about this and we thought invite officers to a public forum to discuss our concerns.

i also think a public reading would be a good idea to raise awareness.

and the more this issue gets publicised in the press and on blogs - the better. i'm trying to keep a tally of which books get banned but we only know about the more obvious examples, there are very many more. i saw a whole file full when i visited a distributor.

i'm lucky in that i'm getting the info about this from friends, 3 booksellers and a distributor. but if you come across any more cases, let me know.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon,
This is unrelated to your post, but I thought you might find it interesting :)

qaminante said...

I must be a snob because I didn't enjoy it much, apart from the colourful Indian background. I presume it was banned because the guy was a drug smuggler and (in what I found the dreariest part of the story) an arms dealer, whose escapades in India took place after he had escaped from prison in Australia, and I believe the Malaysian authorities take a dim view of such things - presumably they don't like the author/protagonist making himself out to be a bit of a hero, when engaged in criminal activities. Not a good enough reason for banning the book, obviously, but an explanation.

Read@Peace said...

Gosh, I can think of better books that can be banned. Shantaram is such an inspiring read and the prose so evocative, it can more than just stir your heart.

At last count (sometime in August this year), the book had sold 6000 copies in the Singapore and Malaysian markets. That's in a market where 500 copies can propel some not so noteworthy books to some lists.

Truth as they say, is often stranger than fiction. I still look at this bit of news in sheer disbelief.

Read the full review of one the many books that touched me here:

Glenda Larke said...

EEK! Sharon you MUSTN'T give them ideas of more works to ban...

I think the reading of banned works sounds like a great idea - I'd go if I am in Semenanjung at the time.

namra said...

Another case "we're-doing-this-due-to-the-interest-of -"rakyat"?"

This is the major subject film makers, script writers and others involved in the creative mediums often face trouble with - the absurdity of the guidelines - which I think no one have ever seen the book (is there a book?) or the document is written (A law must be written to consitute is a law, right) where the guidelines, often changes so much it would shun a chameleon.

In another perspective, the effect could be a reversal. Due to things such as this, more people starts to read. I mean, does it not make books appear interesting? As the reason that makes drugs and law breaking appealing to young people due to the rebellious ideal, the excitement, the thrill and the challenge it gives.

Exciting ideas I think, we could have "Pabiblio-escobar" - a reknowned banned books trafficker. Or a book reading guerilla movement, where reading is held in secret loactions in brief of time and then whoosh! Everyone is gone by the time the authority come knocking. LoL.

bibliobibuli said...

jen - many thanks for spotting that. blog worthy indeed.

qaminante - you are probably q.right re. the reasons. but does reading about something make us go and do it? if i read shantaram today am i going to become a drug runner tomorrow? if i read dostoevsky's crime and punishment am i going to murder an old lady? fiction is about trying on lives that aren't our own.

deepika - many thanks for the link to your review. i do regret not buying it when i had the chance. 6,000 copies is amazing sales figures.

glenda - they would ahve to ban everything! let us all become zombified. i'll give the readings some thought and if it happens invite you over.

Namra said...

and what's more, our country could be the first in the world to claim facing social problems due to the masses likes reading!

sympozium said...

Headline in local Malay Newspaper: "SHANTARAM KENA HANTAM!"

bibliobibuli said...

namra - hadn't thought of it that way ... but that's what it boils down to. if such books are deemed unsuitable. we must all be subversives and reading a dangerous activity!

sympozium - nice one!

sympozium said...

Copies still available in Kino yesterday evening...tempted to buy it.

bibliobibuli said...

me too sympozium.

sympozium said...

Sometines I wonder if the bookshops aren't in on the game as well - hint hint to the authorities to ban certain books and induce in shoppers the sudden urge to buy those books!

bibliobibuli said...

nice theory ...

lainieyeoh said...

assuming that on my calculations scale there existed an end where banning books is acceptable, i wouldn't find shantaram very near it at all......

Nothing controversial that i recall. Who knows why this time. Maybe the anti-establishment feel that runs throughout the book.

Anonymous said...

Will be going to India next week with a list of books to buy.Shantaram just got added to it.
Let me know if there are any titles you want me to check out there girl!

Anonymous said...

Sorry have to repost as somehow I can't seem to sign in as blogger or with a name.Got posted as anon.

Will be going to India next week with a list of books to buy.Shantaram just got added to it.
Let me know if there are any titles you want me to check out there girl! -Krishna

bibliobibuli said...

thanks so much krishna ... but for now am overwhelmed with books and trying not to acquire any more until i read some of the ones i have

sympozium said...

Bought Shantaram at Kino yesterday - I'm so weak-willed! :-)

bibliobibuli said...

haha! you are. but so might i be!

sympozium said...

Only 2 copies left - the US Harper Collins edition, and one of them is a tattered browsing copy, so best go quickly!