By Jessica Saenger*, edited by Ben Steward. The ‘homocleansing’ of the Russian edition of Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series offers a topical hook on which to hang the publishers’ dilemma about duty to authors and their duty to stay in business.
This month the hit American author tweeted her outrage at learning that her Russian publisher had ‘redacted the entire queer plot w/out permission’. She added: ‘I was absolutely horrified. Wouldn’t have known if not for a Russian reader who read both editions. Publisher in total breach of contract.’
There are two strands to Schwab’s indignation: the redaction – or censorship – and the manner of that redaction. Quite apart from normal contractual requirements, simple courtesy would dictate that any author deserves fair warning of significant plot changes, whatever the reason. If this didn’t happen here, then the publisher may well have infringed the author's moral rights and be in breach of contract. That is for Rosman and Schwab to work out, although unquestionably the writer is entitled to be upset at discovering by chance that her work had been mangled.
That said, Schwab would do well to take a breath and consider where best to direct her wrath.
Explaining itself in the business daily, Rosman admitted it had censored a romantic scene between two characters in the second book of the Shades of Magic trilogy ‘so as not to violate the law banning the propaganda of homosexuality among minors’. In other words, to avoid criminal liability and having the book wrapped in plastic and given an 18 rating in Russia – thereby losing a large chunk of Schwab’s target readership – the publisher did what the law wants and altered the offending scene. It is Russia’s oppressive gay propaganda law that lies at the root of the problem, not the publishers who obey it.