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November 6, 2012 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

How To Make Love to a Negro and Covers

I was poking around the internet, looking to see if the new ebook version of Je Suis Fou de Vava has been released yet (Laferriere alluded to this project in his interview with me) when I came across the following video, from 1985, promoting his novel Comment faire l’amour avec un Negre sans se fatigue. It’s an interview with Denise Bombardier (whom he imagined being interviewed by in his book). It’s in French, and it features a very, very young Laferriere.

I’ve been meaning for a while to take a look at the various covers of the book, so I figure this was as good an opportunity as any. Here is the original cover, from 1985, VLB Publishers:

This was the general format for all of Laferriere’s covers at VLB – the title in typewriter font with a painting on the lower right-hand corner. This cover, one would imagine, recalls the house of one of the Miz that Vieux visits, filled with “exotic”  artifacts collected by her father. I wish I had a better picture of it, but this is a screen capture from the above interview; searching amazon reveals no cover photo for this particular edition.

Here is the cover in France, by Serpants des Plumes:

I’m not entire sure how I feel about this particular cover. It certainly calls attention to the race issue, and potentially the comical nature of the book as well. But, well, wow.

Then there is the popular “J’ai lu” mass-market paperback edition that borrow the cover image from the movie poster.

This, like the movie poster and most other promotional materials from the 1989 movie emphasizes the…sexual nature of the book. I particularly like the visual of this album cover, featuring the music from the movie.

Notice how “amour” (love) is the woman’s breasts. And the darkening of the pubis. Only in France (seriously, the album cover in North America is the movie poster. Apparently a ridiculously large phallus is more acceptable than the female form).

Now, in mass-market paperback in Quebec and France, the cover looks like this:

The emphasis here is the inter-racial elements of the book. This is the same type of imagery that is found on the cover of the Italian translation:

More interesting to me, however, is the emphasis on the English translations’ covers:

Here the emphasis is on the author himself, as a writer. The book really is about a writer trying to find his voice in his new home. The sex doesn’t come up at all, nor does the inter-racial aspect. The latest republication, with the full titled restored, no longer has any picture of visual to guide the reader:

Although it is hard to see, it does feature a blurb from the original review in The Village Voice. This, of course, emphasizes the literariness of the book, in contrast to the title.

I’m fascinated by how Laferriere’s books have been literally framed by the cover art selected for them. I’m going to go through and look at all of the books (at least the more interesting ones). In terms of how Laferriere has re-written and revised himself, so too has he been re-written and revised by other factors.

The book is a finalist for the latest Canada Reads competition. If you’re interested, you can read my essay on the problems with the English translation.


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