Mahathir Book Too Hot for Malaysian Authorities

Customs sits on a controversial new biography of the former prime minister  

Written by John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel 

Malaysian customs authorities have been holding up delivery of 800 copies of an authoritative new biography of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for the past three weeks at the Port Klang customs office.

The book, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times,” written by former Asian Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Barry Wain, is a warts-and-all, critical but fair account of Mahathir’s 22 years in power. It is certain to become an essential study for scholars seeking to understand the onetime premier’s reign and its consequences. But maybe not in Malaysia itself unless the locals buy through Barns & Noble (available Jan. 10) or Amazon (Jan. 5) for US$60.75.

Reports of the book have created considerable stir in Malaysia after the popular Malaysiakini news website ran reports of it along with a review first published in Asia Sentinel.

The book will probably turn up on bookshelves eventually, said one Malaysian source. “There are lots of books on the shelves that are critical of Dr Mahathir. It might be some of his allies that stopped it. But everybody knows about it, it’s just they’re waiting for a hard copy.”

Foreign published books air-freighted into Malaysia often go through customs without being checked, or with only a cursory check at the airport. Books sent by ship or by land from Singapore are often stopped for inspection, however, which can mean customs officers spending weeks reading the material. Sometimes they just sit on the book, leaving the publisher with little option but to withdraw it or be faced with being hit with storage charges, leaving the book effectively banned without the government having to face criticism for formally banning it.