The best books that were banned, or based on stories forbidden to be told

Oyungerel Tsedevdamba Author Of The Green Eyed Lama
By Oyungerel Tsedevdamba

Who am I?

I'm a Mongolian woman deeply interested and engaged in politics, human rights and history. Until I reached 25, my country was a communist state and I wasn't allowed to learn many things including foreign language other than Russian. Life, school, and books surrounding me had not only legal but also very strong ideological restrictions dictated by communism. As the most attractive melodies were ‘banned music’ and most beautiful love songs were ‘banned songs’, I grew up hungry to learn the true stories hidden behind all the bans. Later, I decided to write historic fiction on the important stories that were not taught to us in schools but necessary for Mongolians and the world to understand. 

I wrote...

The Green Eyed Lama

By Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, Jeffrey Lester Falt,

Book cover of The Green Eyed Lama

What is my book about?

Based on a true story, The Green-Eyed Lama, will transport you to the rugged but beautiful northern border of Mongolia. It opens with a love story between a handsome Buddhist lama (priest) and a beautiful nomadic herder woman. Far from an ideal match according to their social roles, the pair struggle for acceptance in the remote traditional herder community in which they live. The timing of their love affair could not be worse. It is 1938 - the year Joseph Stalin commands Mongolia’s communist government to crush Buddhism nationwide.

Stories like The Green-Eyed Lama were totally banned by the communist leadership until Mongolia’s 1990 democratic revolution. And even today the history depicted in the book is not fully taught at schools.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire

Why did I love this book?

I couldn’t put it down when I read it, maybe because I am a woman. The most famous 13th century tale about Genghis Khan and his creation of Mongolia doesn’t mention women’s involvement in the creation of Mongolia. Jack Weatherford, a famous writer and historian, noticed a line in the Secret History of the Mongols which might have indicated a censorship in the story. He further explores the censored parts of the Secret History only to find fascinating and active involvement of women in Mongolian history. Anyone who is interested in history, truth, and women’s empowerment will find this book amazing. Jack writes so well and his books are always a fast read.  

By Jack Weatherford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret History of the Mongol Queens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A fascinating romp through the feminine side of the infamous Khan clan” (Booklist) by the author featured in Echoes of the Empire: Beyond Genghis Khan

“Enticing . . . hard to put down.”—Associated Press

The Mongol queens of the thirteenth century ruled the largest empire the world has ever known. The daughters of the Silk Route turned their father’s conquests into the first truly international empire, fostering trade, education, and religion throughout their territories and creating an economic system that stretched from the Pacific to the Mediterranean.

Yet sometime near the end of the century, censors cut a section about…

Wolf Totem

By Jiang Rong, Howard Goldblatt (translator),

Book cover of Wolf Totem

Why did I love this book?

When traditional nomadic herders live under communism and alongside aggressive social development, their lifestyle and environment will be disturbed to the core. So, it happens in the Wolf Totem. This book’s main characters are a Chinese young student, a Mongol family, and a wolf. Even though the book was initially censored in China, later it became an official market item and a sensational bestseller. I read Wolf Totem in Mongolian language when it was translated from Chinese. It was a slow but beautiful read. I spent one month to digest the book fully. For those, who find it difficult to read quickly, I would recommend sticking with the book till the end. 

By Jiang Rong, Howard Goldblatt (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wolf Totem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen volunteers to live in a remote settlement on the border of Inner and Outer Mongolia, where he discovers life of apparent idyllic simplicity amongst the nomads and the wild wolves who roam the plains. But when members of the People's Republic swarm in from the cities to bring modernity and productivity to the grasslands, the peace of Chen's solitary existence is shattered, and the delicate balance between humans and wolves is disrupted. Only time will tell whether the grasslands' environment and culture will ever recover...

Wolf Totem has been a sensation ever since it shot to…

Book cover of The Wealth of Nations

Why did I love this book?

This is a big, yet easy-to-read, theoretical discourse on market economy that is meant to be a popular read. Reading or even possessing a copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was forbidden before 1990. I studied in a Soviet Union university in the 1980s and was taught how to criticize Adam Smith’s positions using Lenin’s and Marx’s arguments. However, I, like all other students, was not permitted to read the actual book. When I finally held The Wealth of Nations in my hands in 1999, I “devoured” the book in one night. Either, it was that fast a read or I was that hungry for the original story following years of communist misinformation and censorship. 

By Adam Smith,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Wealth of Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. First published in 1776, the book offers one of the world's first collected descriptions of what builds nations' wealth, and is today a fundamental work in classical economics. By reflecting upon the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the book touches upon such broad topics as the division of labour, productivity, and free markets.

Doctor Zhivago

By Boris Pasternak, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky

Book cover of Doctor Zhivago

Why did I love this book?

This is one of the most popular books of Russian literature known outside Russia. Until the 1990s, Russians themselves and those living in the communist bloc were not allowed to read Doctor Zhivago. The book follows the story of a young doctor, Zhivago, and his love interest during the turbulent time of WWI. The beautiful read will be only slightly slowed by complex long Russian names and the style of Pasternak’s writing. 

By Boris Pasternak, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Doctor Zhivago as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in Italy in 1957 amid international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago's love for the tender and beautiful Lara, the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times. Pevear and Volokhonsky masterfully restore the spirit of Pasternak's original—his style, rhythms,…

Book cover of Tragic Spirits: Shamanism, Memory, and Gender in Contemporary Mongolia

Why did I love this book?

Many people became shamans. Suddenly. Was it related to democracy and freedom and the end of cultural censorship in Mongolia, or was it related to the growing magical energy of some localities? Mandukhai, a Mongolian anthropologist tries to find an answer to such a phenomenon and discovers that shamans are related not just to magic, but to the tragic past of Mongolia’s rural communities. This is a serious read for those interested in history, political influence on indigenous culture, anthropology, magic, gender, and Mongolia’s nomadic lifestyle.

By Manduhai Buyandelger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tragic Spirits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The collapse of socialism at the end of the twentieth century brought devastating changes to Mongolia. Economic shock therapy - an immediate liberalization of trade and privatization of publicly owned assets - quickly led to impoverishment, especially in rural parts of the country, where Tragic Spirits takes place. Following the travels of the nomadic Buryats, Manduhai Buyandelger tells a story not only of economic devastation but also a remarkable Buryat response to it - the revival of shamanic practices after decades of socialist suppression. Attributing their current misfortunes to returning ancestral spirits who are vengeful over being abandoned under socialism,…

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