Thursday, June 25, 2009

Burnt Shadows

by Kamila Shamsie / A Picador Paperback Original

Photo-illustration by Marc Yankus

Beginning on August 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, and ending in a prison cell in the US in 2002, as a man is waiting to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of love and betrayal.

Hiroko Tanaka is twenty-one and in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. As she steps onto her veranda, wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, her world is suddenly and irrevocably altered. In the numbing aftermath of the atomic bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, two years later, Hiroko travels to Delhi. It is there that her life will become intertwined with that of Konrad's half sister, Elizabeth, her husband, James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu.

With the partition of India, and the creation of Pakistan, Hiroko will find herself displaced once again, in a world where old wars are replaced by new conflicts. But the shadows of history--personal and political--are cast over the interrelated worlds of the Burtons, the Ashrafs, and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York and, in the novel's astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound these families together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences.

The title Burnt Shadows refers to the crane shaped patterns from the protagonist's kimono that was burnt onto her back when she was exposed to the atomic blast while in Nagasaki waiting for her German officer lover. Whew. It represented a constant reminder of the world she lost and marked her as an outsider trying to find happiness but is swept up in historical events. Instead of trying to illustrate the epic scope of the story, I wanted to focus on that. But it could easily turn out looking grotesque. I needed to find a more painterly and beautiful approach to creating the image.
Marc Yankus is always dropping by my office to show me his beautiful photographs. They're more like paintings. Really stunning. I'm always looking for a project that we could work on together and this seemed perfect.

Marc had his close friend Minnie pose for him. Focusing on the back of the woman, she couldn't appear too provocative but had to appear as if she was baring her soul and her shame. A moment of intimate trust. Of the contact sheet, this shot of Minnie looked particularly vulnerable. We then looked for crane references. Most of the stock art and Dover books sources were too stiff and graphic. I wanted something more painterly and soft. I thought that kimonos would be a good bet. But oddly enough, we had a difficult time finding kimonos with the right crane patterns. We looked all over NYC. We checked kimono stores, the famous Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya, a private dealer of Japanese rare prints, the New York Public Library Picture Collection but none were right. It seemed easier to recreate it ourselves. So I hired my go to image maker Philip Pascuzzo to create a flying crane and ocean waves in the style of Japanese woodblock prints. Marc then took Phil's drawings and arranged them into his composition. The wooden bracket from a piece of Marc's furniture was added to the back cover to suggest the India portion of the story.
I kept the type solution quiet.
The gradient sky was inspired by the Japanese screen painter Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

Illustrations by Philip Earl Pascuzzo:

An interview with author Kamila Shamsie:

Kamila Shamsie on using Google Maps to help with research for novel writing

Burnt Shadows Reading Group Guide

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Virgin Suicides

by Jeffrey Eugenides / Picador

Cover photograph by Justine Kurland // Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Juxtaposing the most common and the most gothic, the humorous and the tragic, Jeffrey Eugenides creates a vivid and compelling portrait of youth and lost innocence. He takes us back to the elm-lined streets of suburbia in the seventies, and introduces us to the men whose lives have been forever changed by their fierce, awkward obsession with five doomed sisters: brainy Therese, fastidious Mary, ascetic Bonnie, libertine Lux, and pale, saintly Cecilia, whose spectacular demise inaugurates "the year of the suicides." This is the debut novel that caused a sensation and won immediate acclaim from the critics--a tender, wickedly funny tale of love and terror, sex and suicide, memory and imagination.

The cover of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, which I designed with Olga Grlic, is still one of my favorite designs and favorite books. So when Picador got the rights to republish The Virgin Suicides in paperback, I was excited to get the chance to repackage it.

Great typography huh?

I absolutely loved Sofia Coppola's debut film version of the book. So it was hard not to be influenced by the look and tone of the movie. I wanted to stay away from depicting any direct scenes from the book and go with images that suggested the spirit of the writing. Jeffrey and my Publisher also wanted to go for a modern American classic look.

Working with a limited budget, commissioning a new piece would be difficult so I looked for artist that dealt with similar themes in their work. Hoping to find something in their collection that would resonate sympathetically.

Jeffrey had suggested the Dutch photographer and video artist, Rineke Dijkstra. She photographed an early series of adolescent bathers in the United States and Eastern Europe in 1992 that dealt with their discomfort over their bodies. Children who seem at odds with their own bodies as they confront puberty. I contacted her representative at the Marian Goodman Gallery and we looked over her work and selected this image entitled, "Hel, Poland, August 12, 1998". Even though it didn't have a direct link to the story, it captured the mood.

Reineke's image was gorgeous but it was decided that a young girl in a bathing suit was too far away from the book. I remembered when we were brainstorming for MIDDLESEX, Jeffrey had suggested using one of sculpture/performance/video artist Matthew Barney pieces from his Cremaster Cycle on the cover. Interesting idea because they both dealt with early moments of sexual development that represented a condition of pure potentiality. But it would just be too disconnecting to most readers.

Another photographer that I had worked with on a previous book, Serious Girls came to mind. Justine Kurland, the fine-art photographer. She first became known for a series that depicted fierce feral teenage girls running wild in nature that addressed female identity without appearing passive or seductive.
I thought she would be perfect for this.

I got in touch with Justine's gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash and asked if they had anything that would be related to the book. They were very helpful. Justine sent me two images that she thought would work.

This image entitled MIDSUMMER NIGHT:

Beautiful and appropriate. But I loved her second image entitled ORCHARD:

It wasn't depicting anything that actually happened but was a visualization of a group of young men's nostalgia for the unattainable girls of their youth. The Lisbon sisters of their memory. Below, Justine describes in an email her inspiration for the photo after I sent the comps to Jeffrey.

hi henry,

great. I hope something works out. I loved that book, and actually read it the same time I was making the girl pictures. my favorite part, which was completely missing from the movie, was the hyperbolic fantasy life of girls imagined from the point of view of the boys, forever unknowable. for that, my strongest recommendation would be "the orchard"

How about that? It was as if I commissioned her for this book. It all came together nicely in the end. My Publisher and I loved it, and so did Jeffrey and his wife. DeLUX.

A Video Conversation with Jeffrey Eugenides in The New York Times Book Review
The author discussed his celebrated novels, "The Virgin Suicides" and "Middlesex," and the decline of his hometown, Detroit, with Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Book Review.
Jeffrey's opening words warmed my heart. :) <3

NPR: All Things Considered
Listen Now 'The Virgin Suicides': Inspired By Detroit's Woes?