There is a period in British culture – the beginning and middle of the 19th century, in which there is no awareness of the existence of racism, insulting qualifications are used, Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurna commented to AFP. The writer is also a teacher of English literature. In his words, reading the racist literature of the last century of the empire’s existence can be “very heavy”.
Gurna’s comments on the work of Agatha Christie, whose specialty is postcolonial literature, are not definitive. According to him, rewriting some of the most popular crime novels is “pointless”, although there is a problem with the texts.
Agatha Christie’s books have practically never stopped being relevant. The writer was still alive when the big wave of filming her novels and stories began. With her consent, the title was changed to Ten Little Negroes. This work, however, except for the title and the repetitive ditty, is the least of the modern reader’s problems. In recent years, another successful novel has come into focus – “Death on the Nile”, the latest film adaptation of which is from 2022. Director Kenneth Branagh chose a cast that represents the racial diversity of modern cinema. In fact, Agatha Christie’s text contains episodic racist comments about the population of Africa by some characters. The true mark of intolerance displayed by the characters is the social intolerance between the lower and upper decks.
The situation is even more eloquent in another popular novel by Christie – “Murder on the Orient Express”, one of the writer’s most often screened novels. A Russian woman, a Greek woman, Americans, English women, a Swedish woman, a German woman, an Italian woman, a Belgian woman, a Hungarian woman travel in one carriage… In the course of the action, the characters begin to make mocking ethnic comments. However, the author does not favor anyone’s national features – the English servant in her books is “trained”, and the English are phlegmatic, “stupid”, with an “oblong head”, etc.
Thus, Agatha Christie falls into the group of humorists Roald Dahl and Mark Twain, whose literary heritage has a problem. On the one hand, even Abdulrazak Gurna admits that some books can be difficult to read in the 21st century, and on the other hand, cleaning the texts of all comments that are considered offensive today would render them meaningless.
In that year, Salman Rushdie, whose work has caused confusion and even offense to much of the Islamic world, publicly condemned the censorship of books and authors in Europe and the United States. In his words, freedom of speech has never been so threatened as it is now. To a large extent, Rushdie’s comment, who is of Indian origin, coincides with that of Abdulrazak Gurna, who emigrated to Britain – and faced racism because of the persecution of Arab citizens in Zanzibar. One must think about how the power to rewrite books can be used by those who do not share values and sensibilities, says Salman Rushdie.