South Asian book covers ‘coded female’?
Jess McCabe // 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 Amazon.co.uk 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…)