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#3 Controversial Books


3. April 2014 von

There have always been books, which were heavily critized or even banished for their controversial themes. This post will look into some of the more famous novels  - from Nabokov to Palahniuk.

Franz Kafka once wrote to Osca Pollock:

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.

While I do enjoy reading a book that simply makes me happy, I do agree with Kafka. Literature does not necessarily have to be political, but it nevertheless has a social function. Fiction mimics reality in all it's light and dark shades and it is the pitch black into which we need to look from time to time. In  the 20th century some books were written which are still today infamous for their controversial content. Today I'd like to present some of them.

Vladimir Nabokov - Lolita

A Russian author writing in English, Nabokov tells the story of middle-aged Humbert Humbert and his obsession with a young girl by the name of Lolita. It's a story full of suffering and power plays and at the end I wasn't even sure who in this relationship was victim and who was the offender. Lolita caused an uproar, because it depicts pedophily in explicit ways and thus points directly at something, which hasn't been discussed so openly in society until then. Critics asked: "How can you morally justify such a book?" Readers insulted the author and the book was banned from libraries. But we have to be very careful in our judgement: It is of utmost importance to always remember that the author does create a work of fiction and that he is not the narrator Humbert Humbert. And even though this book offends us, pains us even, it is an important one - and written in an elegant language that shows us all the facetts of Humbert Humberts suffering in his love for this girl. Nevertheless it is not an excuse for pedophie behaviour, but a psychological study in ficticious form.

Erich Maria Remarque - Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front)

Written in 1929 Remarques book became a bestseller in Germany and around the World. It is still a part of the German school curriculum and generations of pupils have to read it thoroughly. Remarque's story of the young Paul Bäumer, who comes back from World War I and cannot find his way back to a normal life, is the voice of a lost generation. As his companions Paul goes into battle with joy that soon vanishes in the face of death and decay. The war never leaves him or any of his comrades and turns their lives upside down. Society at home does not permit them to loudly talk about their war experience. In consequence some of Pauls comrade choose to kill themselves to escape their fate. The title All Quiet on the Western Front refers to the insignificance of an individual life in times of war. All quiet on the western front was banned and burned by the Nazis in 1933. In 1939 German boys again went to war with the same joy and again they often came back as broken men. It is Remarque's intense telling of the war inside one's own head that makes this book important even today.

Christiane F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo

This autobiographical book depicts the life of young Christiane F. in Berlin. Growing up in the infamous Gropiusstadt in Berlin Neukölln, where poverty and disillusion reigns, Christiane starts taking drugs at the age of 13. Together with her school friend Kessi she visits night clubs and Christiane falls in love with Detlef. When he offers her heroin, she first declines but gives in later. Soon the spiral downwards is unstoppable: Christiane needs to earn money for heroin and becomes a prostitute at the station Zoologischer Garten in Berlin. She is 15 years old at that time. 
First published in German newsmagazine STERN in 1978, Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo shocked the nation. The story of Christiane was just one of so many underaged prostitutes, who were unable to fight their drug addiction. At the end of the book, Christiane's friend Babsi gained sad fame for being the first dead girl in connection with heroin addiction. The Bahnhof Zoo still is a meeting place for heroin addicts even though heavily controlled by police forces. Christiane survived her youth and still battles addiction.

These are just three books out of hundreds, who moved their audience. What books did you read that were controversially discussed by society?

1 comment

  1. The Diviners and Stone Angel by Margaret Atwood-actually most of her work was controversial and people wanted them banned. When I was in High School there was a bill going through trying to ban even books like Huckleberry Finn. I went to a Catholic school and the nun who taught us made sure we read these books and was very against censorship. My mom, who grew up during Hitler's reign, was also very much against censorship as well


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