ISTANBUL—Rumors that two classic books could face censorship in Turkey boosted them to best-seller status within a week.
Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” reportedly had been referred to the authorities for censorship in schools in Turkey because of several “immoral” parts of text, along with popular children’s book “My Sweet Orange Tree.” The Ministry of Education subsequently denied the rumors, but not before book sales soared.
“It is true that recent reactions have boosted the sales. It is not desirable though. It is unfortunate that the book has become part of such rumors,” said Irfan Sanci, chief editor of Sel Publishing House that publishes “Of Mice and Men.”
Publisher of “My Sweet Orange Tree,” Can Publications, also confirmed soaring sales. A representative said: “The increase was triggered by both reaction and curiosity. There has been lot of support by readers. Some were second time buyers.”
But the manager at Kabalci bookstore in Besiktas, one of the busiest bookstores in Istanbul, downplayed the reported increase in sales. “We have seen more interest and some reactionary buying in the last few weeks, but it was not enormous. It was media pump up. Some people bought the books with the fear of censorship.”
Both books have been popular in schools as they are among the 100 novels recommended by the Ministry of Education. Leading Turkish online bookstore Idefix, has listed both books as bestsellers.
“Books are resilient the more they are banned or attempted to be banned the more people read them,” said World famous Turkish author Elif Safak in a tweet when the two books hit the bestseller lists.
Although it is a common practice to ban books in Turkey, the government recently lifted a ban on 453 books. Some included titles from 1960s–’70s.
Izmir Education Directorate’s Books Evaluation Commission had sent a report calling for the Ministry of Education to ban certain parts of John Steinbeck’s classic according to an article by Daily Birgun on Jan. 3. The commission had listed pages 63 and 64 as immoral in its report.
Meanwhile in Istanbul, a parent had sent a letter to the prime minister’s communication office (BIMER) to complain about “My Sweet Orange Tree” by Brazilian author José Mauro de Vasconcelos. According to Hurriyet Daily news the part that offended the parent is where 5-year-old Zeze recites a song he overheard from his teacher, longing for a naked woman under the moonlight.
The Teacher’s Union of Turkey was outraged, stating in a press release: “How dare they open an investigation to a teacher for assigning ‘My Sweet Orange Tree’ as reading material. … Prohibitive and censorious practices in all areas of social life including education are highly reminiscent of the Ottoman Sultan II. Abdulhamid and his ‘autocratic era.’… In response we call all teachers, students and parents to buy and read these two books and protest prohibitionist mentality.”
But Minister of Education Omer Dincer said that there will be no censorship and denied any investigation of the teacher. He said that rumors have been launched to denigrate the ministry. “We have to take complaints by citizens into consideration. Upon reviewing these complaints we have decided not to take any further action. Both books are in our recommended novels list,” the minister told Anadolu news agency.
With regard to the report on “Of Mice and Men,” Izmir Provincial Education Director Vefa Bardakci told Anadolu: “We have asked Ministry to review the book. There is no prohibition or censorship. It has been exaggerated. Our entity has no authority to ban books.”
“It seems like the case has been closed,” said Irfan Sanci of Sel Publishing. “The Ministry might have stepped back due to public reactions.”
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