One Book, Six Covers: Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Slave
One of the books I read last month. When I was finished with it I checked out the different covers and decided to do a Four Covers posts.
Here’s what the book’s about: It’s the 17th century. A Jewish scholar is captured and sold into slavery after his town is massacred. He is devout, and does his best to maintain his faith among the rustic peasants he must now live among. His position among them is tenuous and he fears for his life. The one bright spot is the kindness shown to him by his owner’s widowed daughter. The two fall in love and plan to escape the village. They succeed, but only to now have to confront a new series of threats.
It’s a sad book, and much of the conflict is internal as the characters wrestle with their desires. From some of these covers you’d hardly know that. They’re selling some kind of Doctor Zhivago romance.
Cover one is bland. Cover two is Doctor Zhivago. Cover three is Ben Shahn inspired with Singer’s name larger than the title and selling the author. (This style is used for other Singer books by the same publisher.) Cover four is more Doctor Zhivago, putting me in mind of an adventure novel with its bright covers. Cover five is the version I read. It’s dull, and you can see how it’s taken from cover six. Cover six might be my favorite, in that it matches the book by suggesting emotional distress and suffering. Though you might think the woman is the slave, and for some reason it makes me think of a Thomas Hardy novel.
I bought the book because a) I like Singer, b) I found it for a buck in a used book store. If anything the cover with its blandness was more of a turn off than anything else, but still I enjoy seeing the different way books are packaged and sold. Especially ones like this, historical fiction by an author with literary status. You’re not simply reading a book, you’re reading a book by a Nobel Laureate. Someone deemed important.
Stay Off The Road
The roads were dangerous at night. The King’s Daughter, filthiest of witches, confused travelers and shoved them into bogs. The demonic Lillies made their homes in caves and the hollows of tree trunks. Ygereth, Machlath, and Shibta enticed men off the highway until they defiled themselves with nocturnal emissions. Shabriry and Briry polluted the waters of springs and rivers. Zachulphi, Jejknufi, Michiaru, survivors of the generation that had built the Tower of Babel, confounded men’s speech and drove them mad or into the mountains of darkness.
– from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer