anna karenina

Random House went through 100 designs before deciding on Hausfrau’s cover

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Watching this video takes just more than one minute. But choosing the cover of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s New York Times best-selling Hausfrau was a lengthy task. An article on Mashable explains:

“I worked with five designers, one illustrator and two letterers on more than a hundred versions of the jacket,” said Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House Publishing Group.

The design, as Schiff sees it, should give readers a clue about the experience, or how they will feel while reading the book, “rather than giving away the plot or the the details of the story.”

“The final design, with its stark Swiss typography against the moody and lush floral grouping, conveys a sensual but claustrophobic atmosphere,” Schiff said.

That mood is especially fitting for a book like Hausfrau, which tells the tragic story of adultery and a breakdown of a woman and her marriage.

I don’t think I agree with the Mashable reporter’s use of the word “tragic” in describing Hausfrau. I’d use the word “uncomfortable,” or maybe “darkly insightful.” And as I’m typing this, I’m wondering how much of my different perspective comes from the fact that I’m a woman, and the Mashable reporter is a man.

Hausfrau, which has been described as a “modern-day Anna Karenina,” is the story of 30-something-year-old Anna, an American living with her husband in Switzerland and struggling with isolation, among other challenges, because she can’t speak the language. Desperate to feel happy again, she tries to figure out her life through a series of new experiences, including German language classes, Jungian analysis and a series of sexual affairs that she enters with an ease that surprises even her.

As Jill and I talked about on the Literary New England Radio Show earlier this month, Hausfrau can be erotic, but at its heart it’s an exploration–an exploration of how we lose ourselves, and the imperfect choices that can help us find ourselves again. That doesn’t sound very tragic to me.

– Cindy Wolfe Boynton

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