Thursday 13 September 2007

Photo of a Fictional Woman

Jamilia, by Tchingiz Aïtmatov, may be the only example of literature from Kyrgyzstan currently available in English. It's a lovely novella from 1957, newly translated and rereleased by the independent Telegram Books.

From the blurb: "Jamilia's husband is off fighting at the front. She spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their small village in the Caucasus. She is accompanied by Seit, her young brother-in-law, and Daniyar, a sullen newcomer to the village who has been wounded on the battlefield. Seit observes the beautiful, spirited Jamilia spurn men's advances, and wince at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband. Meanwhile, undeterred by Jamilia's teasing, Daniyar sings as they return each evening from the fields."

I'll leave it there, as the next line of the blurb actually tells you pretty much the end of the story.

What's intriguing about the cover to this beautiful book is that what I assume to be a stock photo so well represents the title character. The woman in the picture is exactly right. I can't remember seeing such a phorographic likeness on a book cover before--normally blondes are represented by brunettes, lanky men by brick shithouses, and so forth. This usually doesn't matter--the covers of literary novels are usually abstractions based on the story's feel, and that's fine. But when a publisher gets a photo that's just right, they should be commended.

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