In at least two previous posts I mentioned a post at The Society Pages which parses the orientalist cliches used in many “Asian” book-covers. I also noted this hadn’t seemed to take hold in Korean translations just yet (or at least the ones I have). Now, though… well.. let’s take a look.
The Society Pages suggests the cliches are (purple text is mine):
Element 1: Blossoms
Element 2: Fans (or something to cover or split the face)
Element 3: Dragons (for use only on crime novels, or other exciting tales) (so, not so relevant here)
Element 4: Female Necks (preferably that of a geisha, but any female neck will do in a pinch)
Here is Kyung-sook Shin’s Please Look after Mom, the story of a family which loses its mother and searches desperately for her.
Good job – three cliches in play with the flowers, “fanned” face cut in half, and hint of a neck. At the time I thought this was a good marketing approach as Shin was unknown and needed any market purchase she could get. As an ex PR/Marketing guy I know the use of a sensible amount of pandering to your audience.
Then came I’ll Be Right There, a book about love, friendship, solitude and politics. Surely all serious topics and thus obviously requiring a more specific cover.
Ooops! Well, at least this time the superfluous flowers are gone, right? So we’re moving in a more literary direction, which can’t be bad?
Well, now Shin is on her third full-length novel, The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness, a story of a girl trying to become a writer while working in one of the sweatshops that helped fuel the Miracle on the Han. This is serious business, calling for a serious cover.
Holy Whatchamacallit! They actually went and used the previous cliches and added some explicit neck.
Now, I understand the marketing thing here – they want to get that audience that gets all palpitated when it sees Asian cliches, but at some point wouldn’t it be nice to have the covers become a little less cliched? I don’t have Photoshop on my computer, pursuant to the big system collapse of last month, but if I did I would have cobbled together a few covers of books like Animal Farm, The Shining, Hamlet in this form… a Hamlet cover with Ophelia’s face half-hidden by the curtain which her father stood behind before his murder, her neck submissively exposed, and floral “weedy trophies” in the background.
But that.. that would be ludicrous, right?