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Sonzogni, Marco (2011). Re-Covered Rose: A case study in book cover design as intersemiotic translation.

Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 181, €65. ISBN: 978-90-272-1190-3.

Recent research trends within Translation Studies show an increasing interest in paratextual features. The fact that any text needs elements around it to make it a book poses questions about who should choose these elements, how they should be selected, and what impact they have on readers, both as a commercial lure and as creators of readers’ expectations towards the story.

Sonzogni goes one step further in this innovative study of paratexts in which he attempts to discover how book cover designers translate the information they have about the story into images and signs. As the author emphasises in the introduction, this line of research is of great interest since “by negotiating between the verbal and the visual, book covers reveal the cultural assumptions of their designers, of their authors and of the readers of the text” (4). Therefore, Sonzogni proposes to consider book cover design to be a type of intersemiotic translation and develops a method of analysis and evaluation to assess how accurate these translations are.

Since in the real world, according to the author, book cover designs are profoundly influenced by the cultural and social features of the target audience and market and by the publisher’s own opinions and interests, Sonzogni arranged a competition specially designed for this research. The goal of the competition was to produce a new book cover for Umberto Eco’s Il nome della rosa [The Name of the Rose] and the brief was a plot summary taken from Wikipedia. Competitors were free to read the book or search for more information if they wanted to. More than two hundred and fifty covers made by designers from all over the world were received and the author chose fifty to be included in this book, taking quality and variety as a selection criterion.

The book is divided into two parts plus an introduction and conclusions. Part I focuses on the nature and function of book covers, exploring how they can change the way people read a book. Following in the footsteps of Genette’s work on paratexts, Sonzogni claims that the cover is the threshold of the text and an instrument of adaptation, thus this adaptability allows it to reflect the particularities of each target audience and to perform “a crucial act of socio-cultural mediation” (15). He goes on to analyse the evolution of an element that may often substitute the book cover in its promoting function — the book jacket —, providing the reader with an interesting account of the development of advertising and commercial approaches in the publishing industry, from the appearance of a paperback to the importance of marketing a book through its film adaptation.

The final sections of Part I are devoted to explaining the process of “visual translation” (20), as Sonzogni calls it, a form of translation marked by subjectivity and selection, given that only certain features of the text can be highlighted in its visual representation. Following Juliane House’s model of translation quality assessment and Patrick O’Neill’s application of Paul Armstrong’s model of interpretation validity to translation evaluation, the author develops a “grid” for an inclusive assessment of book covers in which he takes into account a genre, content, design or persuasiveness, among others.

Part II of the book comprises the display of both the grid and the fifty covers Sonzogni has selected to show multiple interpretations that can arise from a single title. In some way, this study also makes us think about the power of other paratextual elements, such as titles, to create images and expectations in the mind of the readers. Each of the fifty covers is accompanied by two commentaries: the first one by the designer, providing some kind of explanation of his work; the second by John Bertram and Sonzogni himself, explaining how the assessment grid applies to the cover design and, therefore, what the degree of correspondence between it and the text is.

Even though Il nome della rosa is a well-known novel all over the world — also thanks to the film adaptation —, the variety of designs is astounding, showing that, despite the popularity of the story, some ideas remain subject to multiple interpretations across languages and cultures. Although, as Sonzogni himself states, the results of the analysis are “inconclusive and ultimately subjective” (153), the truth is that this book opens a new area of research in Translation Studies. Undoubtedly, the study of paratextual elements and their relation to the text offers a new and exciting path to continue exploring the infinite possibilities of our discipline.

María López Ponz, Universidad de Salamanca, Spain
E-mail: marialopez@usal.es