Two Tales of a Death Cult

Denmark, 1956
Poland, 1993
France, 1980
Sweden, 1979
Argentina, 1977

Cover illustrations for Messiah (above) have differed widely over the years. The first translation appeared in Denmark in 1956 under the title "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," apparently a reference to the narrator, Eugene Luther, who writes much of the "gospel" of John Cave, the novel's enigmatic propagator of suicide. The cover was nondescript, vaguely suggesting magic and sorcery. The Polish cover is literally set in the time of the Christian messiah. The French borrow a cubist painting by Leopold Survage entitled Le Mage, which can mean "the magus" (wise man) or "the magician," thus creating an intriguing duality. In Sweden, where the book was labeled science fiction, the cover suggests some sort of haunting futuristic metropolis dominated by a wan, messianic figure. Finally, the Argentine paperback presents a slightly surreal collection of images that suggest spirituality, solitude and death.

FEATURED PAGE: A slide show of covers from Messiah and Kalki

Vidal's second novel of a death cult, Kalki (below), appeared in 1978, and the next year, a Thai publisher issued the book with a cover that Vidal himself calls "lurid." Vidal dedicated the book to a popular Thai politician, hence its appearance there (the only book of Vidal's published in Thailand, where a hotel has named a suite after him because of his frequent visits). The book soon appeared in Japan in this handsome hardcover edition. The most recent edition is from Russia, where the cover depicts an ominous cloud figure looking over a city that's soon to be depopulated. In all, there are more translation of Kalki around the world than there are of Messiah.

Thailand, 1979
Russia, 2000
Brazil, 1984
Japan, 1980
Germany, 1981

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