Books By South Asian Women Are Given The Same Old Tired Covers Again And Again, And This Needs To Change

Think back to the last book you saw by a South Asian woman, and what do you picture? I bet I can guess — and so can Lisa Lau, a lecturer at Keele University, who noticed that the covers of these books almost invariably portray sari-clad women, henna-ed hands and feet, or jewelry draped over female body parts. Considering the amazing and diverse range of fiction that’s come out of South Asia, the realization that all books by South Asian women have nearly the same cover is more than a little upsetting.

According to Scroll.in via Quartz, Lau says that this isn’t just the fault of lazy publishers; this isn’t just another case of the silhouetted man on the cover of every thriller, or the pink sparkles that always signify "books for women." Those are hackneyed, but she notes that this blanket image is a type of racism — because these books aren’t even of the same genre.

A quick search on Goodreads instantly validated Lau’s point; pan-Indian women exotically draped in saris appear on the covers of almost every novel on the list. This would be dull if all these books told generic tales of women in South Asia — but when the topics covered in these unique and fascinating novels range from marriage, storytelling, and family to self-denial, immigration, and the class divide, it’s not dull at all. In fact, it’s infuriating. When published for Indian readers, these books are given the contemporary and interesting covers they deserve, but in the West, these meaningless recycled covers dismiss the whole myriad of fascinating Asian cultures as one big cliché.

Unfortunately, this treatment is not just confined to South Asia — ever notice how all books about Africa show acacia trees on the cover? Despite the hundreds of stunning varieties of trees to be found in Africa (and let’s not even get started on the diverse people you might meet there), the covers of our books reduce this entire gorgeous continent to a Lion King caricature.

There's a sad lack of diversity in our literature, and it's great to see a market for writers of color. But the reused covers on South Asian books, with their portrayals of ethnic faces and foreign fashions, do not show an appreciation for South Asian culture. Far from it. The sari-clad and henna-tattooed Indian women symbolize exotic but familiar cultural differences — for a Western readership not quite ready or willing to realize that there is more to South Asia than a one dimensional “otherness.”