Cover Story, Part III: When the Doves Disappeared

This analysis of the cover of When the Doves Disappeared contains spoilers. Caveat lector. 

Every now and then, a brilliantly designed cover will capture my attention just as much as the book’s contents. I’m not talking about merely beautiful covers. A brilliant cover will make a browser take a second look, hint at the book’s contents but give nothing away, and show originality in a market of covers that tend to blur into one another after a while.

The cover for When the Doves Disappeared, by Sofi Oksanen, designed by Kelly Blair, is brilliant. The colors are somber, as befits a book about Estonia in World War II. The cut out of a dove recalls the German soldiers’ habit of capturing and eating pigeons in Tallinn. What makes this cover brilliant, however, is the man facing away from the cover and facing us at the same time.

When the Doves Disappeared is really the story of Edgar Parts. Though the first part of the book tells the story of his wife and cousin, their stories circle Edgar’s. The last part of the book lets us into Edgar’s world. We see what motivates him (fear of discovery, for the most part) and what he likes and dislikes, but you can’t say that you really know him. Over the course of the book, Edgar changes sides twice. The cutout on the cover splits the faceless man into three segments, echoing Edgar’s transformations from NKVD officer, to German catspaw, and back to a loyal Soviet Estonian citizen. After the War, Edgar will go to desperate lengths to hide his past working for the Germans—symbolized by the segment of the cover where the man is facing away. The eye that peers so seriously out from the cover is Edgar watching for any hint of suspicious and covering his tracks.

The story of When the Doves Disappeared is there for everyone to see on the book’s cover, but it will only make sense after you finish reading it. Then the meaning becomes so apparent it’s a wonder you didn’t spot it sooner.

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