Can Censors Prevent Citizens from Reading New Kuwaiti Novel, ‘Stray Memories’?

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Kuwaiti government censors have prevented Abdullah Al Busais’s new novel Stray Memories (Zakriyat Dalla) from entering the country. What effect will the banning have?

Clearly, most government censorship agencies are at least a few steps behind reading culture and reading technology. Most of the annoyed or outraged commentary on Twitter doubted the government’s ability to prevent people from seeing new writing and new ideas:

Others mocked the government, such as this tweeter who suggested it was only interested in cookbooks:

There was no official statement given about the banning, although novelist Abdullah Al Busais (@Alb9ai9) said there was some claim that the novel had obscene content. He further suggested that the book was banned because of tweets about the novel, not the novel itself.

The book is set before and after Iraq’s invasion of its southern neighbor, and the novel reportedly follows two central characters, a Kuwaiti officer and a “bidoon,” or stateless person.

Busais said that the decision to ban the book, which was published by the Arab Cultural Center in Beirut, was made based on one person’s opinion.

According to a number of news sources, the banning has sparked a wave of disquiet among Kuwaiti writers. The poet Dakheel al-Khalifa told Al Qabas that he admired the novel, and found its ban “surprising.” Al-Khalifa said the novel exposed some of the excesses of Kuwaitis, and he believed that was the reason hard copies weren’t being allowed inside the country.

Kuwaiti poet Abdullah Al-Falah further asked, on Twitter, why this book was banned while others that promote sectarianism are not.

l Busais will apparently meet with the Ministry of Information this week to discuss the ban.

This is not the first book to profile Kuwait’s stateless population. Previous novels that have addressed Kuwait’s bidoons include Ismail Fahd Ismail’s The Phoenix and the Faithful Friend, which was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 

But this move also begs the question: What’s the censors’ goal? Is it to send a message to authors? Or do censors honestly hope to prevent the book from circulating among Kuwaiti readers, who surely are capable of ordering it off Neel wa Furat and other sites? A ban of the paper book will probably impact the book’s ability to reach casual readers, although hopefully this will spur more Kuwaiti authors to sign contracts that guarantee an e-book as well as print.

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