The brutal attack on author Salman Rushdie in New York on August 12 has rekindled the debate about censorship in literature.

Rushdie’s ambitious work of magical realism, “The Satanic Verses,” received one of the most violent and lasting reactions in literary history for its treatment of Islamic lore. Its 1988 release was met with protests, riots and bans in Muslim-majority countries. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious edict, in 1989 calling for the death of the author and anyone who worked on the book, after which the Italian translator of the novel was stabbed, the Japanese translator of “The Satanic Verses” was killed, and the Norwegian publisher was shot. Wounded. Rushdie had to hide for years; The book is still banned in more than a dozen countries, including Iran, India and Kenya.
The motive behind this month’s attack on Rushdie is still unclear, but the incident “represents centuries of book suppression and censorship and continues today,” said Pam Harrington, director of the upcoming Firsts: London Rare Book Fair. , which centers around the theme of banned books.
With more than 120 exhibitors and running from September 15-18 at London’s Saatchi Gallery, the fair covers a wide range of censored titles across history and geography. It will include books banned for obscenity, blasphemy and security reasons, including the discovery of Copernicus and a version of “Dr. Zhivago” secretly published by the CIA to undermine the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The event commemorates the 100th anniversary of James Joyce’s epic poem “Ulysses,” which was banned in both the United States and the United Kingdom upon its initial publication; A signed first edition of “The Satanic Verses” will also be on show.

A common theme of book bans throughout history is that censorship backfires and makes its target more popular, Harrington points to the case of “Spycatcher,” an MI5 officer’s autobiography that became a bestseller in 1987 after it was banned.

“The more you suppress, the more people will fight,” he added.

The Fair’s collection of censored works includes several titles, including the following, that are considered classics in some jurisdictions and banned in others.

“Lolita” (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov

Courtesy of Shapero Rare Books

Nabokov’s tale of a pedophile’s infatuation with a little girl fell the wrong way with the censors in the UK, so French publisher Maurice Girodias – a champion of banned works who specialized in erotica – printed the first copies. English novelist Graham Greene campaigned for the novel’s publication in Europe, arguing that “Lolita” was a metaphor for the corruption of the old world (Europe) in the new (United States). When Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation came out in 1962, the ban was lifted in many countries and the book became a hit. But according to the American Library Association, it ranks high on the list of most banned and challenged texts in US schools and libraries.

George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945)

Courtesy of PY Rare Books

US and UK publishers rejected Orwell’s satire about the dangers of Stalinist oppression during World War II, when they feared the novel might damage their alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler, but later rushed to accept it when the Soviets became enemies in the Cold War. . “Animal farms” were closed in the Eastern Bloc until the fall of the USSR, and later banned by the United Arab Emirates due to its depiction of pigs as prominent characters, which some considered to be at odds with Islamic values.

“The Tropic of Cancer” (1934) by Henry Miller

Courtesy of Jonkers Rare Books

“I’m not sure it would be published today,” said Tom Ayling of Jonkers Rare Books, which sells limited editions of Miller’s semi-autobiographical novel about life as a struggling writer in Paris. He argued that it would be difficult to broadcast violent sexual scenes and abusive language to a modern audience. Only Obelisk Press, an outlet known for distributing pornography, would publish “Tropic of Cancer” in 1934. US Customs banned the book that same year, but it circulated on the black market until the Supreme Court declared it non-obscene in 1964. Turkey outlawed the novel as recently as 1986.

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by DH Lawrence (1928)

Courtesy of Jonkers Rare Books

Lawrence’s agent advised the author that his risque tale could not be published in the UK, due to both its sexually explicit content and its depiction of then-taboo relationships between members of different social classes. The author eventually secured a limited English-language printing through an Italian publisher. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was not published in the UK until the 1960s, where it became the subject of a historical obscenity lawsuit fought against the state by publisher Penguin Books. Penguin won and on the first day the novel was available, 200,000 copies were sold. The book was subsequently banned in China in 1987 because it “corrupts the minds of young people and is also against Chinese tradition,” although it is unclear whether the ban is still in effect.

“Ulysses” by James Joyce (1922)

Courtesy of Peter Harrington Boo

The US magazine The Little Review initially serialized Joyce’s magnum opus, but the work’s sexual passages — particularly the masturbation scene — tested obscene and the series was halted. The UK also banned “Ulysses,” but Joyce found a publisher in Paris in 1922 to print the complete work for the first time; The book quickly became a black market hit, though copies were seized and burned at the US Postal Service and British ports. But in 1933, an American judge ruled that the book was not obscene, and it began to circulate widely. “Ulysses” has since been recognized as a masterpiece of modernist literature. The book was recently translated into Persian for illegal distribution in the country, defying Iranian censors.

The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade (1904)

Courtesy of Voewood Rare Books

Written in the Bastille during the French Revolution, the author was interrupted when the prison was attacked by rebels and did not finish the story. But “120 Days” remains one of the most infamous works of literature, with depraved sexuality, blood-soaked orgies, torture and pedophilia. The book was first published in Germany in 1904 and was subsequently banned throughout Europe in the 20th century. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film was also banned in several countries. South Korea has banned the book twice this century, and now it can only be sold there to adults 19 or older in sealed plastic covers.

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