By Hannah Cook, editorial intern with Orange Hat Publishing | Ten16 Press
It’s a given that any novel starring a photojournalist must have a cover worthy of the character. It may come as a surprise, then, that rather than using an actual photo, designers opted for a graphically designed cover for Behind the Lens, the debut novel by real-life photojournalist Jeannée Sacken.
In Behind the Lens, seasoned American photojournalist Annie Hawkins Green returns to Afghanistan in 2015 after having suffered through a traumatizing Taliban ambush eight years prior. Readers will be drawn into Sacken’s carefully crafted story of intrigue, suspense, and danger amidst the complex patriarchal culture of wartime Afghanistan. With so much happening within the story, it was a challenge for designers to create a cover that exemplifies all of its most important elements.
Original cover designs spotlighted photographs of two Afghan women, but that idea was eventually scrapped for a few reasons. First, its identity as a photo made the work appear nonfictional upon first glance. Even though a photograph would make sense for the story, because it is a fictional work, designers ultimately decided that an actual photograph might mislead the readers. Second, the novel follows Annie’s journey, so it was decided that she must remain the focus of the cover, while the back cover highlights the Afghan village where the story takes place.
The decision to showcase Annie came with the opportunity to feature the most important elements of her character, giving readers the chance to know her before even cracking the spine. First and foremost, of course, is the camera, illustrating Annie’s career as a photojournalist and its powerful, driving force in the novel. More subtle, however, are the messages showcased by prominently presenting Annie’s bright red hair. The color of Annie’s hair sets her apart in the Afghan village of Wad Qol, making her an easy target for those who oppose her work and increasing the danger in which she puts herself. It also indicates her fiery and tenacious personality, one of the many reasons readers will fall in love with her character.
Drawing on her many years of travel as a photojournalist, Sacken writes with an authority that can only be gained from experiencing adventure firsthand. Despite never having been to Afghanistan herself, her travels in other countries combined with meticulous research result in impressively detailed and atmospheric descriptions of the culture of Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to women.
So, if this cover catches your eye, don’t miss out! You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but in this case, the attractiveness of the outside lives up to the excellence within.
Behind the Lens by Jeannée Sacken launched virtually on March 9th, 2021 by Ten16 Press, an imprint of Orange Hat Publishing. It is now available online and can be found in your local bookstore.
To check out some of Jeannée’s photojournalism work, go to jeanneesacken.com.
About the Book
Eight years ago, seasoned photojournalist Annie Hawkins Green barely survived a Taliban ambush that left her military escort dead and a young Afghan girl dying in her arms. Since then, she has managed to suppress her memories of that brutal day—until she returns to Afghanistan to teach a photography workshop at the secondary school for girls run by her expat best friend Darya Faludi. As the Taliban gain prominence in the once peaceful region, Annie’s nightmares from her last time in-country come roaring back with a vengeance. But are they just dreams? The unshakeable feeling of a grim, watchful presence makes Annie think otherwise.
As Annie struggles with her nightmares, more trouble brews with the suspicion that Darya’s teenage daughter is sneaking away at night to meet her shadowy boyfriend. Meanwhile, Annie’s own daughter wages war with her father and stepmother back home, feeding Annie’s all-consuming mom-guilt. Her only comfort, a poetry-writing U.S. Naval officer who saved her life all those years ago, is now at the other end of a satellite phone 7,000 miles away.
How can he possibly keep her safe? How can anyone?
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Article originally Published in the April / May 2021 Issue: Cover Stories.