The invaluable London Korea Links reminded me that there are actually two titles for Shin Kyung-Sook’s new book:
- Please Look After Mom (USA)
- Please Look After Mother (UK)
And LKL also provided a link to see that book cover. The covers are entirely different, as we’ll see in a minute.
As a fellow who constantly bemoans the multiple Romanizations of Korean names, it might seem that I would be opposed to this splintering of Shin’s work, but in fact I think it is probably a brilliant way of dealing with genres, because both the altered language and the altered art on the covers is in fact a way to make the book more instantly understandable in the target country.
The difference between “mom” and “mother” is the difference between informal (US) and a hierarchy-structured (UK) cultures. Neither word would work as well in the other culture, with “mother” sounding hopelessly stiff in the US, and “mom” sounding foreign in the UK (I imagine, even if a more informal word had been desired, that it likely would have been, “mum?”).
So, a potential reader from each location takes a look at the title, and immediately feels that they understand it.
Even better, the art works are genre appropriate, even if the genres might be slightly different! And that’s brilliant, because a foolish consistency here might have damaged sales. The good folks over at The Society Pages have theorized, a bit sarcastically, that the recognizable cover should have four elements:
- Blossoms (preferably cherry, but anything red or pink will do)
- A fan-obscured face (I’d argue any obscuration or cut-off)
- Dragons (for mysteries only)
- Female neck
Lo and behold, the US version has two of those elements, and three if you want to call the blossom like clusters of lights(?) as fulfilling the first criteria.
While these cliches may be stereotypical and in some cases insulting, they are nonetheless the tools of genre and marketing.
Also, with respect to the US cover, it only has the one character on it, a clever demurral to the cultural individualism that the United States is so well known for. This cover allows a browser to put herself (primarily) into the picture.
The fact is that I am unqualified to speak about the UK cover in detail, as I’m not an expert in the cliches attendant to UK genres. Instead, I hope one of my UK readers can chime in with comment.
One thing that is immediately apparent is that there are two characters, the mother and a child, apparently, so a bit less of that US radical individualism. The other thing I would note by way of my reaction, is that for some reason this cover makes me think of a cover to a classic modern novel – something that might have gone on an Orwell book, for instance.
I have no idea what to make of that, I just note that it is what I thought.
In terms of cliches, we have a plethora of pink blossoms, and the mother obscured by the shadow of the sun, so we seem pretty solid there.^^
In any case, as I look at this I see it as a good thing – a publisher recognizing that genres have different signifiers in different countries, and paying due diligence to them.