South Asian book covers ‘coded female’?

// 27 May 2008

Is the cover art on some fiction, specifically that written by Desi authors, “coded female”, Ultrabrown asks?

It’s not clear how much of this is that South Asian culture is seen as feminine in America, and how much is generic to literary fiction. Are language and craft and design coded female?

Manish is talking about the US covers, but a quick look at shows the same/similar versions available in the UK.

A couple of issues present themselves here; first off, if the covers are gendered at all, I would call them “feminine” rather than “female” – the two terms not being synonymous. But are the publishers aiming the books at women? Suggesting that Desi writing is somehow “feminine”? At any rate, I think it’s obvious even to the relatively untrained eye, that publishers* trade heavily on exoticism and Orientalism (with a capital Edward Said-type O), which, obviously, in turn plays out a fundamentally sexist and racist trope about men/the ‘West’ being the norm/strong and women/the ‘East’ being the other/weak.

Manish points out some interesting exceptions:

There are some exceptions such as The Konkans, and the aggressively masculine covers of Sacred Games and Londonstani (crime novels) and Tourism (urban fic).

Because this is at least partly about femininity, there are, as ever, at least two ways of interpretting this. (Western publishers otherising Desi writing and experience, and/or lumbering it with women’s/chick lit’s second-class status), or (the covers are feminine – so what? You won’t buy a book with leaves on the cover? What century are you living in?)

*(Although, perhaps, the same could be said of some writers…)

Comments From You

Sian // Posted 29 May 2008 at 1:00 pm

This is definitely true to fiction in general, but I just had another look at my Desi fiction and it’s also true there-something I hadn’t noticed before.

In fact, when I used to volunteer in a charity shop, they actually organised the books into Men’s and Women’s fiction! The funny thing about it was that they knew very little about the books that were brought in, and so based this on the cover-leading to a black/beige/serious-looking copy of “Pride and Prejudice” being placed in the Men’s section, but a copy of the same book with pastel shades and swirly writing on being placed in the Women’s section…

priyanka srivastava // Posted 1 August 2008 at 5:41 am

chitra divakaruni’s characters are female rather than feminine. they have strong sense of thier own identity as a woman. they celebrate womanhood.

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