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Honoured by Booker, restricted in Malaysia June 14, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Democracy, Human Rights, Malaysia, Note2Self, Readings, Southeast Asia.

Chinua Achebe was honoured with the Man Booker International Prize for Lifetime Achievement this week.

The short list had included the following:- Carlos Fuentes, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie, John Banville, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, and Amos Oz.

His masterpiece, “Things Fall Apart” (1958) is often cited and made compulsory reading for literature students, including here — well once upon a time, that is.

Since 2006, this book is restricted in Malaysia. Which is a consonant away from saying it’s banned.

God knows why. Someone wants us to be stupider and more ignorant than we already are (rotten tomatoes for this rotten government please).

Achebe is also famous for taking on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, calling the text racist and asking if “a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art”; to which he replied,

“No it cannot.”

(“Heart of Darkness” isn’t restricted here. The plot thickens?)

The essay, though written in 1975, deserves a fresh reading in this age of “War Against Terror”, where evidently, a process of dehumanising of the Other is underway to project an antithesis of Europe/West and of civilisation so defined.


Please also see: Sharon Bakar on Achebe.



1. bibliobibuli - June 14, 2007

it certainly WAS restricted. (and why we still don’t know!) but raman of silverfish tells me that the restriction has quietly been lifted according to his suppliers (who i believe in this instance are pansing). the deputy minister did say some time that there was going to be a meeting with book suppliers to rationalise things. it may well have happened and the “problem” with the kdn officers in jb who certainly weren’t operating in concert with the main ministry sorted out, but it has all been kept very quiet. (to save face?)
i like to think that all the publicity in the papers and on blogs helped to make a difference so thanks to all who spread the word
i hope to see this book in the shops soon and will in fact do a check round the bookshops.

EW: The Ministry of Internal Security this week informed two NGOs that of the 109 book titles listed, half had been restricted. There’s no indication what the titles may be, and if/when the restrictions will be lifted.

2. bibliobibuli - June 15, 2007

thanks. didn’t know that. i guess the only way we can go is on a book by book basis, but i think the more literary titles in the list should now be unrestricted and their inclusion in the first place was clearly ridiculous.
will see what i can find out from the shops.

EW: Hope springs eternal 🙂

3. claire the cat - June 16, 2007

hmmm.. somehow there’s a post-colonial question there somewhere…

heart of darkness is Not restricted? on what basis?clearly there’s a bias. achebe’s “things fall apart” forces us to look at colonization right in the face where it hurts. it is compulsory reading for lit majors of course. in the same way that conrad is more often than not, shoved at our brown “indio” faces.
interestingly achebe in things fall apart uses the motif of center/ periphery, inclusion and exclusion, which are also found in heart of darkness as some scholars purport.

i just wonder why malaysia resrticts achebe’s book…what are they afraid of?

on another note: the short list consists of really fine writers too. doris lessing for one. margaret atwood also. i wonder why nadine gordimer was not included.

but achebe? he has made a mark in postcolonial literature. some even say he’s part of putting it in the literary map where it has been absent for so long. enough said.

4. mr yap - June 18, 2007

This was one of the books that I read for my English literature course in Singapore government school 20 years ago.

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