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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The Covers File: “The Apprenticeship Of Big Toe P” around the world

the apprenticeship 01

the apprenticeship 02

When the tagline of a book is “the female protagonist wakes up one day with a penis in place of her big toe”, do publishers just tear out their hair when the time comes to create a cover?

Also: Italian Cover Fail.

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REVIEW: “The Apprenticeship Of Big Toe P”, or: Who knew you could write about the sexcapades of a woman with a penis in place of a big toe so elegantly?

the apprenticeship of big toe p

Title: The Apprenticeship Of Big Toe P
Author: Rieko Matsuura
Review by: Captain Clo
Verdict: surreal, definitely different, wtf-inducing, a must. 4 stars
Trigger warning for: rape, sexual abuse

The set-up of this book is simply amazing. A normal, average, straight (but not for long…) woman wakes up one day to find that her big toe has transformed into a fully functional penis. The surreal, unexplained change sets into motion a journey of self-discovery that inevitably involves a lot of strange sexual adventures. It sounds like the set-up for a bawdy novel filled with gratuitous sex scenes… which The Apprenticeship Of Big Toe P isn’t. It’s surreal and elegant, and definitely not for easily-scandalized minds.

If you’re looking for:

  • surreal, semi-magical realism fiction
  • an unconventional journey of queer self-discovery and sexual awakening
  • a cerebral outlook on sex scenes

this book is for you.

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