I’m going out on a limb here.
I’m recommending that people buy a book I’ve never read.
But it’s more about the principle of the thing, rather than what’s in the book.
Amelie Wen Zhao was getting ready to publish her debut novel, a YA fantasy called Blood Heir.
It’s about a fictional empire where a group of people with special powers is enslaved by those in power. Challenging the system is a fugitive princess who has magical powers of her own.
Blood Heir sounds like something I’d want to read.
Then I read that some early readers claimed that the depiction of slavery was “racially insensitive.” Many of them, apparently, had never read the book. But they joined the pile-on. And for that, they created so much controversy that Zhao pulled the book.
Score one for censorship.
I have a few problems with this.
Reviewers Can Be Wrong
In the first place, reviewers are often wrong.
I’ve seen this happen many times before. In skimming the reviews of one of my favorite books, I saw some highly critical reviews that went as far to say no one should read the book. They based this on a scene where one main character tells another of an incident of child rape in his past. The critics said this was glorifying child rape and no one should read this.
But I’ve read the book several times. My take on that scene is that the male character was ashamed of what had happened to him. The woman he told was horrified. No one was glorifying the event. And the scene fit the greater context of the novel.
So I don’t have a problem with that scene.
Am I right? Or the critics? In my way of thinking, readers should have the opportunity to make up their own minds. People who haven’t read the book should not be allowed to impose their opinions or censor a work of literature.
However, since I haven’t read Blood Heir, it’s possible the critics are right.
However, based on comments from the author and some of her supporters, the intent of the slavery scenes was not to in any way imply slavery is a good thing. And the slave market scene was based on modern-day Asian slave markets, not those from the United States 1800s.
The slaves in Blood Heir were not enslaved because of skin color, but because they possessed magical gifts.
The Author’s Intent is Important
Further, the author posted this on Goodreads about the intent of her book:
Blood Heir explores the demonization of the Other and this experience of not belonging. Ana’s journey examines how one can internalize hatred and fear, how that can warp one’s core and turn it into something cruel and twisted. But ultimately, her story is one of self-acceptance, and of the realization that we cannot change who we are nor what we are born with, but we can choose what we do with what we are given. And like me, Ana chooses to fight for a better tomorrow.
This to me sounds like a book worth reading.
And the whole incident strikes me as bullying someone who wrote something that made some people very uncomfortable.
Which is something that happens a lot when we read. Horror stories can give us nightmares. Thrillers can disturb us with the depths of evil in their villains.
Other books have mocked religious people or other groups for their ideas, causing all kinds of anguish.
But none of those authors, in my opinion, should be bullied into silence.
Even the ones I don’t agree with.
Ideas Can’t Be Killed
Because you can’t kill an idea. People have tried to suppress ideas for centuries.
Ideas can be driven underground. Public discussion of them can be silenced, people afraid to offer their opinions.
But the idea will continue on, in the shadows and corners, its adherents strengthened by the opposition and will rise up again.
The only way to combat evil or destructive ideas is to expose them to the light of day. Allow them to be expressed. And respond with a thoughtful and reasoned rebuttal.
As I stated, I have not read Blood Heir. But I intend to buy it, to support a young, female Asian author, who attempted to make her own statement about a troubling social issue in her fiction (and let’s not forget this is a work of fiction) and was bullied and maligned for her trouble.
This is my small way of supporting freedom of expression in literature and standing against censorship.
And I’ll let you know if I think the critics were right.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!