This year, PEN America asked me and several other PEN members to celebrate the freedom to read by reflecting on the banned books that matters most to us. This is PEN's way of taking part in the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, which brings together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
My choice was Daria Wilke's Playing a Part, a young adult novel (which I translated and which came out this year from Arthur A. Levine Books) that addresses Russian censorship around LGBT themes:
In Daria Wilke's young adult novel Playing a Part, young Grisha is happy at home with his actor parents in a Moscow puppet theater, but he is young and trying to sort out the whole identity—especially gender identity—thing. He's harassed not only by school bullies but even by his grandfather, who doesn't think he's macho enough. Meanwhile another actor, Sam, who is Grisha's mentor and friend, is leaving Russia for the Netherlands because he's gay and can't endure the daily harassment being gay brings upon him.
I describe the book in this way because of its publication in Russia, where homosexuality was criminalized throughout the Soviet period and, in the last few years, criminalized anew. The fact of Russian censorship of "gay propaganda" has shaped my presentation and made this thoughtful and engaging novel also political.
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