The final step after writing the book and choosing the title was deciding on the cover, because unless a book has been recommended by my book club, a friend, or perhaps I noticed it on the best-seller list, I admit that I often do choose a book by its cover. With little hesitation, I ran to my “office” (aka my laundry room with a desk) and reached for my father’s photo album.
There just has to be the perfect photo inside this album that would represent the essence of my book, I thought as I started skimming through the pages. I had “stolen” the album many years ago, with my mother’s permission, so that I could move the photos taped to the torn pages into a new book, complete with captions when possible. I gave it to Dad for Christmas that year.
Each time I look at it I am astonished at what he kept because it covers so many years and all the places he lived in and traveled to—New Jersey, Leningrad, Japan, and all the places he was stationed at during the war.
The first page I titled “The Early Years,” and it is filled with photos of my father alone and with his brothers—the oldest dated 1926 when he was just seven years old. Another is a family photo on the steps of their New Jersey home. As I turned each page and saw each moment of his life unfold in front of me, I considered what photo should be on my book cover.
Should it be a pictures taken on one of the two boats they voyaged on across the Atlantic and the North Sea, or perhaps a scene depicting their life in Leningrad—at school, visiting a museum or standing in front of a statue of Lenin and Stalin?
It did not take long to choose the photo of my father on the Finnish steamer, where he can be seen squinting in the sunlight while wearing a life preserver with the name of the ship printed on it. He is surrounded by his mother, brother, one sister, and several other women as they prepared for the next leg of the trip. They are bundled up in their winter jackets, and to me, this photo was the perfect representation of an immigrant family on the move.
I did not want a glossy, colorful photograph because I knew they were not off to a happy life. I chose the old sad picture because I knew what lied ahead of them.
For the back cover, I chose a black and white photo of the little red diary which was used by at least two of my aunts and spanned a time period of fourteen years. I could not have unraveled as much of the story from their personal points of view without this book.
Now that it’s done, I hope someone looks at my book and decides that they want to see what happened to that boy in the photo.