Here are ten courageous authors who have written truth to power in their novels and stories and have gotten into trouble for doing it.
Marjane Satrapi – Marjane Satrapi’s marvelous graphic novels Persepolis and Persepolis 2 are not only banned in her birthplace country of Iran. These books are also banned from Chicago Public Schools classrooms below grade 8. In fact Persepolis is now number two on the top ten list of frequently challenged books in the United States. The reason for banning is supposedly the one or two depictions of torture, but some have wondered if the books’ positive images of Muslims may be the actual reason.
Hans Fallada – By the time the Nazis took over, Hans Fallada was already a successful author with his books translated and published in Great Britain and the United States. However in 1935 Fallada was declared by the Nazis an “undesirable author”. Fallada continued to write, and his fortunes changed somewhat when the propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called one of his novels, ‘Wolf Among Wolves’, “a super book”. Goebbels repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to get Fallada to write an anti-Semitic novel. Ultimately Fallada was incarcerated in a Nazi insane asylum for other reasons. After the war Fallada wrote his anti-Fascist masterpiece ‘Alone in Berlin’ (‘Every Man Dies Alone’) while in a mental institution. Fallada died shortly thereafter.
Abdul Rahman Munif – Saudi novelist Abdul Rahman Munif had his powerful works banned in Saudi Arabia for their scathing criticism of the oil industry in the Middle East and of the elite Saudis who played along with the oil companies. Munif was also stripped of his Saudi citizenship. His ‘Cities of Salt’ trilogy describes how the desert oasis village of Wadi-Al-Uyoun was transformed and destroyed by the arrival of western oilmen. I read the entire ‘Cities of Salt’ trilogy which I consider probably the strongest work of protest in modern literature. The trilogy is difficult to find in the United States for perhaps apparent reasons.
Yan Lianke – Yan Lianke is China’s most banned and censored novelist. He is also one of China’s most popular writers. I have recently read his novel ‘The Four Books’ which is his powerful work about China’s Great Leap Forward. I will be writing a separate whole article about this novel soon. It was an act of courage for Lianke to write about this massive government failure and major famine that occurred between the years of 1958 and 1962. It is a sign that China is finally opening up to some extent that this work has been published and translated.
Herta Muller – Early in her career, Herta Muller was fired from her job as a translator because she refused to be an informant for the secret police in Communist Romania. Later because of her criticism of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, Muller was banned from publishing in her own country. She won the Nobel Literary prize in 2009. In 2012 she severely criticized the Nobel selection of Mo Yan as a catastrophe calling him a Chinese writer who “celebrates censorship”. So far I have only read one novel by Herta Muller, ‘The Land of Green Plums’, but I hope to read more soon.
Alberto Moravia – Alberto Moravia’s first novel “The Time of Indifference” got him in trouble with the Fascist authorities under Mussolini. After that, he ultimately had to leave the country and write under a pseudonym. However, unlike several others on this list, Moravia’s story had a happy ending. With the liberation of Italy, Moravia returned and had a long and successful career as a fiction writer and screen writer. Among his many fine works are ‘The Woman of Rome’, ‘Boredom’, ‘Contempt’, and ‘Agostino’. He was also a great story writer.
Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky) – Andei Sinyavsky was arrested and imprisoned by the Soviet authorities in 1966 on charges of “anti-Soviet activity” for the opinions of his fictional characters. He was released in 1971 and allowed to emigrate to France. One interesting sidelight, Sinyavsky was the catalyst for forming the excellent Russian-English translation team of Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. Perhaps Sinyavsky’s greatest work is his satirical memoir ‘Goodnight!’, but I have also read and enjoyed several other of his fine novels.
Nadine Gordimer – Gordimer was active in the anti-apartheid movement joining the African National Congress when that organization was banned in South Africa. She edited Nelson Mandela’s famous speech, “I am Prepared to Die”, which he gave at his trial in 1962. Gordimer’s excellent novels, among them ‘July’s People’ and ‘Burger’s Daughter’, deal with how people cope with the terrible choices forced on them by racial hatred. Her books were banned in South Africa up until the end of apartheid in 1994.
Jaroslav Hasek – “The Good Soldier Schweik” is at the top on the list of the funniest anti-war novels ever. It is about an unfunny subject, World War I. Joseph Heller has said that he would never have written his anti-war novel “Catch-22” if it had not been for “The Good Soldier Schweik”. This subversive novel was banned from the Czech army in 1925, the Polish translation was confiscated in 1928, the Bulgarian translation was suppressed in 1935, and the German translation was burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933. It is especially common that army headquarters will ban this novel, citing necessary discipline within their units. Somehow it has survived.
Orhan Pamuk – The novels of Turkish novelist and Nobel Literary winner Orhan Pamuk have often been banned and burned in Turkey. In 2005, Pamuk was arrested for an “insult to Turkishness” for the following remark: “Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do.” The charges were later dropped. He has become the most prominent advocate of a modern, liberal, cosmopolitan Turkey. Of Pamuk’s excellent novels, so far I have read ‘The Black Book’, ‘My Name is Red’, and ‘Snow’.