Is it weird that I love it even though Elisa would never in a million years wear that scarf? Will probably not even wear that scarf when, God willing, she is 30? But definitely never in Tanieux in 1942, because a) she is poor, everyone is poor, people made their kids' new sweaters out of the unraveled wool of old sweaters for Pete's sake, and b) the last thing she wants (or would enjoy doing) is to draw attention to herself. (Also while I'm at it I really doubt she carries a purse, however mature she is at 16 years old. Whatever. You can barely see the purse.)
But it doesn't matter, because I have learned a thing or two about book covers since my first one, and I've learned the reasons beginning authors always get frustrated at theirs--book covers are symbolic. They're not intended as a factual representation of a scene from the book. That scarf isn't even around that young woman's neck, if you really look--it simply swirls behind her, an embodiment of something, a symbol. A symbol of her indomitable spirit, the flame.
It's interesting about book covers, about illustrations too. When I read a book--or maybe this isn't so anymore, but it was very much so when I was younger--the image that's presented to me with it colors it vividly for me. I still have the vividest memories of some of the art that was used to illustrate the poetry in my senior Lit textbook--especially a very strange (well it had to be!) painting on the page opposite T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men. Sometimes a piece of writing without an illustration--sometimes something I wrote myself--produces a strong impression in my mind of a certain type of art. I see the images as line-drawings, or oil-paintings. The reading I wrote about Jesus' birth always makes me think of a certain painting, in which a very ordinary, humble Mary bends over the very rough and ordinary manger and a light pours upward from it, lighting her face. (I can't find it. Wish I could!) I
|This isn't it but this also reminds me of Jonas & Sally|
So I kind of wonder what images Flame in the Night will raise in readers' minds, and I wonder if they'll be affected by the cover. Sometimes I imagine other covers it could have had, other images--a farm with a ancient stone barns, people walking in streets piled deep with snow, a young man on a path with the green and golden light of oak-woods around him, a group of people walking along a ridge high in the Alps. Or maybe the back of a watching Gestapo officer... (Though that might have garnered me a bunch of two-star reviews that boiled down to "I thought this was a thriller and it wasn't.") I mean some of those could have been gorgeous, yeah, but I don't care. I swear--for most of this week I've had a PDF of my cover open on my computer just so I could look at it again and again.
It's the spirit of it that's right. A book cover isn't representational--it's meant to make you feel something. (Specifically "desire to read this book," of course...) It's meant to give you a powerful instinctive sense, in a split second, of what it would be like to read this book and whether you would like it. It's meant to put a finger right on that pivot point between "meh" and "hmm..." and push down till your hand goes out toward the book and you flip it over to read the back. And to achieve this there's a whole silent language of form and color, which I don't fully understand, but a little better than I used to--I understand now why putting a bright color into a black-and-white image is so different from putting a pastel color in. That's what (after looking at a whole bunch of WWII book covers) I ended up suggesting to the cover designer, and that's what they ran with, with a ton of style. I think what this cover communicates is that this book will be striking. And I think (well, it's just my personal opinion!) that that's true.
|A lightly color-washed example|
Well. I'm doing WWII Europe, so I didn't really have to face that particular question. Though I'll note that as far as attractive white (Jewish) girls go, Elisa is actually not pretty. She has bad acne and also much more urgent things to think about. But then the cover doesn't tell you if she's pretty or not. It tells you that her back is straight and her spirit is strong and bright, that the darkness around cannot quench the life within her.
So yeah. I'll take it. And say THANK YOU!