Germanophilic readers! I’m really happy to share with you the cover designs for the German (Swiss) and Swedish editions of The Possessed.

Die Besessenen comes out this fall with the super-cool Kein & Aber. I love the image of some chick prostrated, clearly by the power of literature, on a green grass-like background:

german cover

I believe this is a visual allusion to the story of my first-ever magazine photo shoot:

I had to lie on my back on a piece of fluorescent green imitation fur, clutching to my bosom a Russian-language volume of Dostoevsky. The photographer stood over me on a ladder, snapping pictures. His assistant… opined that the pictures were coming out “too sultry”. She said I was showing “too much neck”. Overcoming a sense of injustice – if I hadn’t been lying on my back on some kind of pornographic fur carpet, maybe my neck wouldn’t have looked so sultry – I changed into a higher collar. Because the cover of the Dostoevsky was so brown, we switched to a green leatherette Pushkin. “Look like you’re reading,” the photographer suggested. Opening the book at random, I found myself staring at the epilogue to “The Gypsies”: “There is no defence against fate.”

(You can see the resulting photo on this page – scroll down, or just do a text search for “CAN’T SAY NYET.”)

There is no defense against fate, but against sultriness of the neck, that girl is protected by her upraised arm – just another example of the inimitable Swiss touch of class.

Speaking of decorum, I also greatly enjoyed the fact-checking process, which included a query of Grisha Freidin’s suggestion that the Isaac Babel exhibit include “the withered genitalia of an aging Semite” (p44 in the FSG edition):

K&A: We had a bit of a discussion about this, as our German translations of “The Rabbi’s Son” mention the youth who was dying in a corner…and “die hinfällige zarte Männlichkeit“. Freidin’s error? Would you like me to change something here?

BATUMAN: No, Babel really does mention the withered genitalia of an aging Semite.1

I’m also very excited about Besatta (or, as I like to think of it, THE BESOTTED), forthcoming from Stockholm powerhouse Natur & Kultur in early 2012. The cover is a “Swedish paraphrase” (by Henrik Lange) of the original Roz Chast design:


In addition to drawing “the one-box-comic-strips for Svensk Bokhandel (the Swedish equivalent of Publishers Weekly),” Henrik Lange is the author of the frenetic and widely translated compendium 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry.

I like this one very much:


But I somehow suspect I would like this one even better:

Speaking of frenzy/ obsession, another 5-star Amazon review is up here.

  1. “…его половые части, эту чахлую, курчавую мужественность исчахшего семита.”

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6 Responses to “THE BESOTTED”

  1. SW Foska Says:

    In Romania and Poland after 1945, references to Jews were routinely edited out of classic literature (going back even to Chaucer!) – too controversial. This may have been the case in Germany too – hence your editor’s question. There was a big scandal some years back with the German version of a film adaptation of Jude the Obscure – ‘Jude’ meaning Jew in German, they felt bound to come up with another title.

  2. Saulstein Says:

    I speak as one who gets infuriated when publishers bring out new/paperback editions of books with additional must haves.

    “But I’ve bought that!” “You have my money!” “Are any of these sales going back to the author, or did you make them sign their rights away to these new fiddly bits?”

    My strongest objection is that wanting to buy a new/paperback edition of a book I already own means another author misses out. I’m no book collector (but I do like the occasional first edition).

    However! With all these editions of “The Possessed”, I am sorely tempted to break these habits. The sheer variety, what they say of local publishing culture and anticipated readership, and their fun. Heavens, I might even be tempted to expand my range of languages (from one) to read one of them. (Although I am chuffed that I can read Swedish enough to understand “A blend (cross?) of Borges and Borat. Slate.)

    (Must say that Tennis Tolstoy is a bit intimidating. Nay. Creepy.)

    Now here’s where one treads into tricky territory. One wonders (notice one’s use of the idefinite pronoun?) if that is the author depicted at the bottom of the front cover of the Swedish version …near …say ..where the author’s name is also located? One only asks not just because of a resemblance to other pictures, but also because one notices there’s a disticnct absence of uncovered nacke. (I use the Swedish perhaps because I “Can’t Say Neck”?).

  3. Geoff Roberts Says:

    Very glad to see that there is a German edition which I can recommend/buy for friends in Germany. The picture of the author is MUCH BETTER than in the New York edition! There you gaze away into the middle distance, looking as if somebody has offered you a curry wurst. Most of the time it’s surely better to do without an author’s snapshot, but this one is fine. But dfor cover – prostrated? Na, she’s long-sighted and forgotten her glasses.

  4. Elif Says:

    I feel so lucky to have such fun/ intrepid publishers and readers! The Italian edition (Einaudi, 2012) may actually have photo-illustrations, Sebald style… I did a preliminary round-up of images and, if the rights etc. come through, I think it could be really really cool.

    Dear Saulstein, it is certainly possible that the neckless androgynous person might be my Swedish paraphrase. (Dear SW Foska, I guess necks are the new Jews these days.) Personally I identified more with the gorilla that is poised to eat the delicious-looking purple book.

    Speaking of snacks, dear Geoff, the currywurst pic was taken in Istanbul by Muhsin Akgün. He’s really good!

  5. Saulstein Says:

    Whew. When I had sorted out the possible identity of the neckless androgynous papraphrased personage, I was going to ask whether it was a common feature of Swedish books to feature the author, paraphrased or otherwise, on the front covers? What fun could be had!

    And still scarier than the Purple Pulper Peeker there on the back, I maintain, is the front cover. It looks like some Russian literature rebooting of the “Saw” movies franchise. Lev Tolstoy in “Racquet”. “You Can’t Say Net!”

    (Oh, and not having had anything close to the experience of publishing, do tell me if it’s poor form to tease about a book in production?)

  6. Dave Lull Says:

    The New York Times
    In a Race to Out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5
    Published: August 19, 2011

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