COVER FAIL: So did you notice this book was written by a Japanese author?

Defendant: Feltrinelli publishing

Charge: gross criminal laziness in choosing the covers for Yukio Mishima’s books

So I read Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask recently, as you do when you’re queer and you know that good ol’ Mishima was gay (which… the man alone deserves an entire post of his own, so I won’t go there today). But I’m not here to talk about the book. I want to talk about laziness, and specifically, the laziness of one of the bigger Italian publishers of today.

First of all, some facts. This book was published in 1949, then translated into American English by New Directions in 1985, and then translated into Italian. Yes, this book is a translation of a translation. And not of some obscure (in the West, or in Italy) Japanese author, but by an author who has been translated in multiple languages and is one of the most widely known worldwide. The edition I bought is the 32nd edition since the first one in 1969. There are 15 books by Mishima in this same publisher’s catalog. And in all this time, no one thought “Hey, maybe we should do a decent translation of this book that keeps selling!”

Second of all. Those 15 books I mentioned? Their covers have only 2 themes:

  • NAKED WOMAN (3 covers)

or

  • stereotypical traditional images of Japan. (10; 2 covers are outliers)

Seeing as Mishima did write a lot about the clash between tradition and modernity in Japan, it somewhat stands to reason that the covers evoke the more traditional aspects of Japanese culture. However, the covers chosen by Feltrinelli don’t strike me as taking this into consideration. There is no clash, no tension; there is just a lazy, unimaginative yell of “Hey! Hey reader! This book is about Japan!!”. The color scheme across the covers is often the same (white-red-black) and there is an obvious recycling of the same identical idea:

mishima - ita

Confessions of a Mask

the “geisha” as mysterious evocation of mysterious, far-away Japan (spoiler: no book in this list deals with geishas. There is not ONE geisha in these books).

These women either give their backs to the viewer (so mysterious!!)

mishima - la voce delle onde

The Sound of Waves

or look at them coily from underneath a wide-brimmed hat (so seductive!!)

mishima - padiglione d'oro

The Temple of the Golden Pavillion

One cover is even just her shadow, cast on a zen rock garden (GROAN).

mishima - la foresta in fiore

So Japanese, much wow.

Then there’s the traditional ukiyo-e cover.

trastulli di animali

The Frolicking of Animals

This story is set shortly after World War II. The ukiyo-e chosen is definitely much older than that, and it depicts what (I think) is a scene from the Floating World, the Kyoto red light district. I haven’t read this book, but I know it’s not set in Kyoto. There could be a scene set in Kyoto, somewhere in it, I guess… but you get me. What does an ukiyo-e like this has to do with the book? Nothing. But it’s stereotypically Japanese. Personally, I think it also looks cheap.

By the way, before you think this is a problem with only this publisher, I want to point out how I first noticed this when I looked at the two books by Mishima I have: Confessions Of A Mask (Feltrinelli) and Dollhouse (Einaudi). The Einaudi cover does the exact same thing – white-red scheme, giant red dot/sun, and feminine iconography.

dollhouse

I wonder if this book might be about Japan?

I mean, they’re not ugly… but they’re unimaginative, and also misleading, actually. These books aren’t about traditional Japan. They’re often about the clashing between noble versus bourgeois values in a rapidly changing, modernizing nation, about family tragedies, sexuality, cheating… and there are no sexy geishas in them. I call this false advertisement. Also, can we stop with this generic advertisement for “this book was written by a Japanese author”? He’s called Yukio Mishima, I’m sure the reader can guess that.

 

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Joint Review: “And I Darken”, Or: Everyone is Fucked Up and Toxic and Nothing Goes Well

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Title: And I Darken

Author:  Kiersten White

Review By: Captain Clo and Bekworm

Verdict: So many bad decisions are made you’ll want to pull your hair out, but this violent girl is fascinating, and boy isn’t her brother adorable? but I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequel… wait did I just buy it???

This review contains spoilers.

And I Darken is an alternate history YA novel with a very specific twist: what if Vlad Dracul – the one who inspired Count Dracula – was a woman? Lada Dracul has all his story – daughter of the Wallachian Voivode, or Prince, Vlad II Dracul, she is sent to the Ottoman court as political hostage with her younger brother, Radu (who is instead an actual historical figure), when she is just a child. Inflexible and obsessed with the idea of going back to Wallachia and becoming its ruler, Lada is violent and cruel, convinced that love is weakness and that being a woman is a disgrace. Of course, she isn’t completely wrong. Lada is a warrior at heart, but she has to struggle a lot in order to be respected as such. And she is a political hostage, in a precarious situation, and any weakness or soft spot she might show can and will be used against her – hence why she never lets her love for her brother show, for example.

Radu is the deuteragonist, and is everything Lada isn’t – kind, sensitive, averse to violence. Where Lada fights with all her might against any and all attempt to tame her scathing remarks or her fists, Radu is more of a political animal, preferring to use his words and his good looks to charm and deceive. They are also complete opposites in how they see their future. Lada hates the Ottoman empire and wants to go back to Wallachia; Radu converts to Islam and has no desire to leave.

Their relationship becomes even more complicated when Mehmed, the future Sultan, enters their lives – since they both fall in love with him.

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REVIEW: “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”, or: Fetch me a couch, for I nearly swoon!

TheGentlemansGuidetoViceandVirtueTitle: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Review by: Captain Clo

Verdict: adventures of a bisexual scoundrel unable to keep his mouth shut and pathetically in love with his biracial male best friend. I had the time of my life, would totally recommend, go read it right now! 5 stars

Trigger warning for: homophobia, slight racism, parental abuse

Sometimes you just need an adventurous, fun and queer book in your life. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue definitely fits the bill. It can look daunting with its 500 pages, but they fly by like nobody’s business. An apt summary of its plot would look more or less like this:

Dramatic escapes through Europe! Highwaymen! Pirates! Alchemy! The mysteries of Venice!

And last but not least, best friends hopelessly pining for each other.

I think the official summary of the book actually sells the book short – it’s so much more than just “two friends of noble station – and a little sister – go on a Grand Tour through Europe”. It’s actually two friends and one sister go on a Grand Tour, the dummy of the trio enrages the Prime Minister of France, then proceeds to steal something of said Minister out of pettiness, dashes out of Versailles stark naked, and then discovers what he stole isn’t just a trinket, but the key to an alchemical secret. Slightly spoilerish? I guess, but it’s so much more interesting put that way.

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REVIEW: “My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness”, or: pink confessions of an awkward Japanese lesbian

my lesbian experience with loneliness

Title: My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness

Author: Kabi Nagata

Review by: Captain Clo

Verdict: candid and honest, it deals with very heavy themes without being an angstfest. 5 stars

I’ve never read much yuri (female homoerotic manga) and I was very curious about this graphic novel when I saw it; I was intrigued by the autobiographical angle, something I wouldn’t normally expect from a Japanese author, especially a lesbian.

I also didn’t expect the cutesy art style to deal with depression, crippling anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide ideation, so BE WARNED: this graphic novel is deeply personal and quite raw sometimes. The author reflects about roughly ten years of her life, as she cycled between periods of depression and moments of personal epiphany, through a journey of self-discovery that lands her in the situation depicted on the cover: in the arms of a lesbian escort, inside a love hotel.

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James Baldwin & Benjamin Alire Saenz: On Fragility, Hope, and Despair

aridante vs giovanni's roomWhat happens when identical issues of shame and self-denial are picked up by different authors in different times?

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is a classic of American queer literature. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a recent queer lit success. Their protagonists struggle with the same issues: shame and self-denial. Yet the direction their stories take, the atmosphere woven around them, are complete opposites. Reading these books, I had the feeling the similarities and differences were intentional on Saenz’s part. At the very least, there is one recurrent metaphor in his book that compares – and contrasts – with a passage in Giovanni’s Room: the image of the loved one associated to a fragile bird.

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Review: “The Ghost Bride”, or: A Heterosexual Classic™ with a Peranakan twist

the ghost bride

Title: The Ghost Bride

Author: Yangsze Choo

Review by: Captain Clo

Verdict: great premises, poor narration. The interesting bits of Chinese-Malay folklore aren’t enough to sustain a narration in which the protagonist is constantly locked outside of events. 3 stars

This review will have heavy spoilers.

I really wanted to like this book more, and it’s a pity it didn’t deliver for me. It’s a Heterosexual Classic™ in the sense that the protagonist, Li Lan, in the end must choose between two suitors and two lives: a human, ordinary life with Tian Bai, or an adventurous, mysterious life with Er Lang, a supernatural creature (not going to spoil which kind… just know it’s awesome).

The twist, for a Western reader like me, comes from the folklore and setting used: the Peranakan culture, the culture of Chinese people living in the Malaysia area (the book is set in Malacca). It’s certainly an interesting context, with lot of superstitions, ghosts and demons floating in the background – enough to keep the reader entertained for the first half of the book.

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COVER FAIL: The Inexplicable Logic of my Life

alire saenz

If there is one thing I hate, it’s shoddy book covers that reek of laziness.

Kidding, there are so many things I hate, it’s impossible to list them all. But this is still one of them.

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REVIEW: “The Inexplicable Logic of my Life”, or: ohmygod Benjamin why do you hurt me so good

the inexplicable logic

Title: The Inexplicable Logic of my Life

Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz

Review by: Captain Clo

Verdict: What am I to you, Benjamin, your own personal Prometheus to torment? Your punching bag?

…Please don’t stop. Ever. 5 stars of delicious, exquisite suffering.

The funny thing about this book is that it looks like a second volume of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I mean, just look at the cover. Then you read the synopsis, and you understand that it’s not, it’s just Saenz’s new publisher – Clarion Books – trying to capitalize on the success of Ari&Dante with a misleading cover. Then you read the book, and you understand that it is actually Ari&Dante, remixed. A sort of Ari&Dante ver. 2.0, if you will.

If you:

  • cried reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • still cry thinking about it
  • cry at the thought of finally reading Book Two, like a martyr at the thought of the Second Coming of Christ

Why wait? Read The Inexplicable Logic of my Life!

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REVIEW: “The Power”, or: On a scale from 0 to genocide, how much do you want to see men suffer?

the power cover

Title: The Power

Author: Naomi Alderman

Review by: Captain Clo

Verdict: Clo is evil and vindictive. Clo cackled like the evil witch she is throughout the book. 5 stars

Trigger warning for: rape, violence, torture

The premise is simple: what would happen if, suddenly, all teenage girls developed the power to electrocute people? More than this, however, The Power is a reflection on the nature of power, how it intersects with sex and violence, and its ability to corrupt. The novel is the tale of an entire planet spiralling down into violence, when the dominant gender finds itself very quickly ousted… and paying the consequences of millennia of oppression.

Seeing as I’m just that evil, I also read a bunch of comments crying “MISANDRY!!” at this book. Cry moar, I’m having fun. One of the common grievances I found is that “the book is just wish fulfillment” which is just so ironic. Because yes, of course it is, and yes, part of it definitely speaks to that part in a woman who just wants to hit men with a spiked bat, but: 1) that’s why I loved it, 2) that’s what men deserve 3) all literature is, on some level, wish fulfillment. Besides, how many books did I have to roll my eyes at, when the male protagonist was an obvious stand-in for the author (and got everything that author wanted… mostly women)? At least I’m the one having fun, for once.

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