Literary roundup: Russian literature in Asia

Writing in the Malay Insider, Erna Mahyuni compares government interference in Russia and Malaysia through the prism of her favorite author Mikhail Bulgakov. Where Putin’s Russia has a new anti-protest law, Malaysia has a peaceful assembly law. And where writers in Stalin’s Soviet Union were pushed towards acceptable themes and subjects to write about, the Malaysian government “dictates to our mainstream papers what to publish/what not to publish, and even [goes] so far as to instruct media blackouts.”

She brings up the case of a Borders’ bookstore manager taken to court for selling the Malay translation of Allah, Liberty and Love (The courage to reconcile faith and freedom) by Canadian author Irshad Manji, which has been banned for, in official opinion, “misleading Muslims to be against syariah (Sharia) law as prescribed in the Quran and Hadith.”

Beyond being a typically stupid example of censorship, what is oddest about this case is that the book was reportedly banned on May 29, six days after the raid of on the Borders’ store, and that the decision to ban the book was only publicized on June 14. So apparently a job requirement for bookstore managers in Malaysia is an ability to read the future.

Vietnamese Russian literature fund

A more positive Russian-Asian literary story is the establishment of a fund devoted primarily to creating Vietnamese translations of Russian literature and training a generation of translators to carry out this work. The fund was initially set up by then Russian President Medvedev and will also go towards translating Vietnamese books into Russian.

In an interview with vice-director of the fund Minh Thu, she stresses the importance of young translators studying abroad, particularly as the younger generation of Vietnamese have studied English instead of Russian, as their parents’ generation did. She doesn’t give much information on what books will be translated, saying that it will be both classics and modern work – though this is confused a bit by the examples she gives of Dostoevsky and Russian maritime novelist Konstantin Stanyukovich. It’s clear that Dostoevsky fits the classics category, but Stanyukovich having died in 1903 hardly seems very modern.

Photo – A Japanese manga version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment by Osamu Tezuka, 1953. Isn’t that the cutest Raskolnikov? Can’t really picture him brooding about his Napoleonic superiority to the masses, let alone axing someone to death.

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