Designing Covers for ‘The Cairo Trilogy’

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Several readers emailed, tweeted, or commented about the covers I posted along with translator William Hutchins’ thoughts about The Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. So I tracked down designer Christine Clayton and asked her about them. She commented:

These were designed 2 years ago while I was in design school at The Portfolio Center in Atlanta, GA. We were asked to select any trilogy and create a visual representation of the story through the book cover design.

After pouring through the first 50 pages or so of a few different trilogies I finally discovered Mahfouz’s work and was instantly drawn in. As a visual artist and designer, I was immediately attracted to the imagery of a world created so beautifully in the writing. The words are so lush and vibrant, enough to inspire any number of interpretations and visualizations, and this is the one I arrived at.

The covers of the books are illustrations I did of a rose bush. The rose bush represents the family structure in its growth and eventual end with the death of the patriarch. In this way, the last rose bush is representative of the end of an era. There is a double meaning as the rose bush also comes to symbolize the end of an era as the British occupation comes to an end. The rose bushes speak to both an evolving family structure and an evolving political/cultural environment in Egypt.

The screens on the book covers (which are designed to pop off the surface about 1/4 of an inch), are designed to resemble Jali screens [Editor’s note: mashrabeya]. Jali screens are ornamental screens which protect women from being seen from the streets and these screens have very significant implications throughout the books.

I wish these covers could some day come to life in real form; as they were a big passion project. If there is enough interest, it might be worth contacting Random House at some point. Who knows?

Updated images of the cover art: