Monday, 18 February 2008

Private Book Bans and pdf Literature

There have been two prominent banned books in Germany over the past couple of years. The first is Maxim Biller's Esra, where the highest court confirmed the ban in October last year, as it was all too clear that it was about the writer's ex-girlfiend, an actress and thus a clearly identifiable person. She felt, apparently, that the book was intended to be insulting. The judges found she should "not have to accept that readers would ask themselves the question arising from the novel of whether the events it depicts actually happened in reality." Tough luck for Maxim 'MySpace' Biller, who I've never read, other than the short story linked above. He presumably has a fairly hefty loss of earnings to deal with now. Of course one always wonders "is this true?" and I know there are some readers who always think characters in books are real people - asking "but why did she kill herself at the end?" when the answer is plainly - "because the author wanted her to." But you know, perhaps the best reaction would be to try and counter the fictional(ised) version - being an actress, surely any publicity is good publicity? And what are the boundaries of fiction? But the book allegedly also deals with her relationship with her terminally ill child, where I can imagine anyone might draw a line.
The second is a non-fiction title: Florian Havemann's Havemann. I haven't read that either, but it's an account of his family history, stretching from his Nazi-Party member grandfather to his East German dissident father down to himself, who left the GDR for West Germany in the early 70s and inspired a rather hateful song by Wolf Biermann. The book was taken off the market in December last year, after an unnamed party applied for a ban. According to Wikipedia, Havemann contends that the bearded bard Biermann had sexual relations with Margot Honecker, wife of the GDR's boss Erich Honecker and famous for her pre-Thatcherite iron hairdo and Stalinist education policies. As bizarre and aesthetically unappealing as that may be, it is not, apparently, the reason for the ban.
Havemann's publishers have now launched a pdf version of the book on a special website, retailing at € 24 and featuring backed-out passages. This is pure advertising, cleverly recalling censored Stasi files and enabling any readers with one of the 7000 previously sold copies to compare and contrast and work out exactly what it was that caused offence in the first place. So in one of the free samples - which of course I immediately downloaded because I am a loathesome nosey parker and am now incredibly interested in gossiping about the whole thing with my hairdresser - you get something like: I asked my sister about our great-grandfather (...) just to see if she knew his first name (...) and she said: five lines of blacked out text - interesting. Intruiging, eh? I bet they'll make an absolute killing.
Of course, as anyone who has ever tried to read a whole book in pdf knows, any buyer who wants to actually enjoy reading will have to pay double the price - € 24 for the download and € xx for getting it printed out and bound. At 1100 pages, that's pretty steep just for a good gossip.

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