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Books Behind Bars

Countries worldwide have often sought to ban books they find politically inconvenient, religiously awkward, or just plain embarrassing. But for writers like Russia’s Vasily Grossman, who pleaded with the Soviet censors in 1961, "I am physically free, but the book to which I have dedicated my life is in jail," a book's ban means far more than just a dip in sales. Here are some books behind bars today.

INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

Nine Hours to Rama, by Stanley Wolpert

Historian Stanley Wolpert’s books just seem to annoy governments. Nine Hours to Rama, a 1962 biography of Mahatma Gandhi, was censored in India because the government objected to Wolpert’s insinuation that it failed to properly investigate threats to Gandhi’s life. The book is still forbidden, though it remains in samizdat-style circulation.

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

All the bestseller lists, movie tie-ins, and turbocharged marketing in the world weren’t enough to keep The Da Vinci Code from getting banned in Lebanon in 2004 and Egypt in 2006 after Christians in both countries complained about the depiction of Christ’s sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. "It’s based on Zionist myths, and it contains insults towards Christ, and it insults the Christian religion and Islam," said a member of the Egyptian parliament.

Prisoner of the State, by Zhao Ziyang

Based on audiotapes surreptitiously recorded by the former head of the Chinese Communist party during his 16-year house arrest, Prisoner of the State accuses leader Deng Xiaoping of playing a central role in the brutal 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Unsurprisingly, the book is not officially available in China.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

One country’s ultimate summer-reading-list classic is another country’s seditious text. In 2009, excerpts from Anne Frank’s iconic diary were cut from a Lebanese schoolbook after Hezbollah argued that it promotes Zionism.

The complete works of L. Ron Hubbard

Since the end of the Soviet era, Russia’s zeal for censorship has died down — except when it comes to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. A recent law bans literature — including the works of Hubbard — that, according to the prosecutor general’s office,  undermines "the traditional spiritual values of the citizens of the Russian Federation."

Nine Hours to Rama, by Stanley Wolpert

Historian Stanley Wolpert’s books just seem to annoy governments. Nine Hours to Rama, a 1962 biography of Mahatma Gandhi, was censored in India because the government objected to Wolpert’s insinuation that it failed to properly investigate threats to Gandhi’s life. The book is still forbidden, though it remains in samizdat-style circulation.

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

All the bestseller lists, movie tie-ins, and turbocharged marketing in the world weren’t enough to keep The Da Vinci Code from getting banned in Lebanon in 2004 and Egypt in 2006 after Christians in both countries complained about the depiction of Christ’s sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. "It’s based on Zionist myths, and it contains insults towards Christ, and it insults the Christian religion and Islam," said a member of the Egyptian parliament.

Prisoner of the State, by Zhao Ziyang

Based on audiotapes surreptitiously recorded by the former head of the Chinese Communist party during his 16-year house arrest, Prisoner of the State accuses leader Deng Xiaoping of playing a central role in the brutal 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Unsurprisingly, the book is not officially available in China.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

One country’s ultimate summer-reading-list classic is another country’s seditious text. In 2009, excerpts from Anne Frank’s iconic diary were cut from a Lebanese schoolbook after Hezbollah argued that it promotes Zionism.

The complete works of L. Ron Hubbard

Since the end of the Soviet era, Russia’s zeal for censorship has died down — except when it comes to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. A recent law bans literature — including the works of Hubbard — that, according to the prosecutor general’s office,  undermines "the traditional spiritual values of the citizens of the Russian Federation."

Suzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.

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