Our month-long display is about challenged or banned books. The titles we’re highlighting explore themes that are often cited when a book is either challenged or banned.
Some of the main reasons given for challenging or banning books are racism, violence, sexuality, political views, and religious beliefs. Here are some titles that explores these subjects.
The modern-day Filipino-American experience is intimately explored in Elaine Castillo’s debut novel America Is Not the Heart. The novel clearly pays homage to Carlos Bulosan’s 1946 semi-autobiographical novel America Is In the Heart while charting the experiences of Filipinos living in 1990s California. Where Bulosan immersed us in the experiences of immigrant Filipinos, struggling to survive as migrant farmworkers, Castillo introduces us to a new, younger generation of Filipinos—nurses, security guards, restaurant workers—who had either immigrated to America at a young age or were born in America.
America Is Not the Heart centers itself around the experiences of Geronima de Vera. Geronima is referred to by two different names, depending on where she is living. When in the Philippines, Geronima is known as “Nimang,” the daughter of a wealthy, pedigreed family. When living in Milpitas, a suburb of San Francisco, Geronima is known as “Hero,” the undocumented immigrant Filipino. When Geronima arrives in Milpitas, she is a damaged woman. Her life, to this point, has been subjected to a series of jarring, and, often times, violent transformations: from being born into a Philippine family of privilege, to dropping out of medical school to serve as a cadre doctor with the New People’s Army (a communist insurgency group in the Philippines), to being captured and tortured by the military, to being an undocumented immigrant working in a restaurant in the United States.
Castillo’s writing style is straightforward with a tender heartbeat that never loses its pace. Throughout the story, Castillo is always finding a way to reminds us that we are more than where we came from. America Is Not the Heart is beautifully written and is deeply moving. It will make anyone who reads it feel at home.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Explored subjects: racism, violence
Kindred, written by Octavia Butler, explores the societal climate of the antebellum South. The story centers on Dana who travels back in time to Maryland, circa 1815. Dana is disturbed at how easy it is to embrace slavery as normal. Despite having grown up in 1976 California, Dana finds herself drawn into the life of slaves. She shares their burden and pain, ending up bloodied and beaten. As the story develops, Dana discovers the power ones surroundings has on shaping who a person is and how they act.
Octavia Butler’s Kindred illustrates the complexities and nuances of slavery and the racial attitudes of the time. It definitely makes for an important and powerful read.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Explored subjects: racism, violence, political views
Set in the fictional town of Macondo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicles the lives of five generations of the Buendia family. The novel beautifully blends reality with the surreal, filling the town of Macondo with wonder, magic, unnatural catastrophes, civil unrest, and unforgettable characters. The proclivities of the Buendia family range from leading quixotic expeditions around the world to organizing revolutions to frolicking all day and all night.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is as bizarre as it is relatable. Within the Buendia family, there exists a warm familial bond which one can always relate to and appreciate. Themes of love, camaraderie, and loneliness are each poignantly conveyed through Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ beautiful use of language. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez observes, “there is always something left to love,” and One Hundred Years of Solitude is testament to that truth.
It is impossible to describe One Hundred Years of Solitude without making it seem like a complicated story. It is not. The narrative is ethereal with a simple elegance that is accessible. One Hundred Years of Solitude is much like its prose: memorable and beautiful.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Explored subjects: Religious beliefs, political views
When Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi was first published, Hamid Dabashi, a Columbia professor, criticised Nafisi for subverting Persian culture by focusing on Western classics. An article in Slate talked about how the book was presumptuous, “This self-importance reveals itself in the book’s tone, which is more petulant than outraged.”
Despite all this criticism, the heart of Reading Lolita in Tehran is how literature can teach us about the complexities and nuances of life. In an oppressed society, it provides a form of escapism and often times hope. As Margaret Atwood puts it, “Reading a book creates a memory of itself, and that memory includes the circumstances under which it was read.” Reading Lolita in Tehran shows Nafisi’s desire to affect change–however small. It speaks to her boldness and ambition.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Explored subjects: Violence
Violence, obsession, and repressed desires are explored in Han Kang’s visceral, vivid, and undeniably compelling The Vegetarian.
The story begins simple enough; Yeong-Hye decides to turn vegetarian. Despite her husband’s consternation regarding her decision, Yeong-Hye provides only a vague explanation for her sudden change, “I had a dream.” Unbeknownst to her husband and others around her, the nature of the dream is quite grim and savage. Soon, the violence of her dream pervades Yeong-Hye’s reality and everyone around her is subjected to it.
There is no specific plot in Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. The novel is told in three parts and from three different perspectives: Yeong-Hye’s husband, Yeong-Hye’s brother-in-law, and Yeong-Hye’s sister. The novel’s main theme, about how society’s unattainable expectations can affect a person, slowly reveals itself and the result is catastrophic. Interestingly, as chaos descends on all around her, Yeong-Hye remains stoic, making it seem it is those around her who are deranged. Throughout The Vegetarian, Han Kang offers subtle suggestions about the nature of human beings and of life.
The prose of The Vegetarian moves beautifully—from Mr. Cheong’s self-centered and baffled first-person narration to the macabre nature of Yeong-Hye’s dreams, to the sensual and lascivious descriptions of beautifully painted flowers. With Han Kang’s deliberate and sparse prose, Yeong-Hye’s transformation is seen through the novel’s language.
The Vegetarian is one of those novels that stay with you long after reading it and comes highly recommended.
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Explored subjects: Racism, sexuality
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist is a powerful memoir full of love, hope, and healing.
Growing up poor in Van Nuys, California, Cullors witnessed her brothers and their friends being searched by police for no apparent reason other than they were black. She witnessed her father routinely being in and out of prison for drug use. She watched how her brother, Monte, was affected by torture experienced in prison. She discovered what it was like to have one’s home raided by police when her husband was mistakenly identified as a robber being sought. Despite all of this, Cullors remained optimistic. She involved herself in local community organizations whose mission was to provide support to those who were most in need. Together with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Cullors helped found the Black Lives Matter Movement, an organization which helps shed light on the inequality and racism which still exists today.
Cullors’ story and the origins of the Black Lives Matter Movement is both tragic and uplifting. Cullors, together with Bandele, reminds us that strength will always be found in love and hope, no matter the situation. When They Call You a Terrorist is simply a must-read.