Imagine my surprise and delight when I found this message in my website mailbox:
Hello, my name is Anna Kobylianski and I am actually the model featured on the book cover of A Golden Web. I know this is quite a random email, but I just wanted to let you know how honored I am to represent a girl such as Alessandra, especially as I am actually studying Health Sciences at McMaster university in the hopes of becoming a medical doctor. I have read some of your interviews and am thrilled to be involved to some extent in the publication of a novel that stands as a source of inspiration for young women. As I am sure we would have never met otherwise, I would like to extend my gratitude over email: truly, thank you for providing me with this experience.
I wish you all the best, and hope that the book is a great success!
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Random email? I was enchanted! What were the chances that a pre-med student would be the cover model for my novel about a pre-med student in 14th century Bologna?
You see, I’d been given the somewhat unusual chance to approve photos of the model the production department at HarperCollins had in mind for my novel’s cover image. The lovely, Italian-looking girl in the photos looked remarkably like the Alessandra Giliani who sprang to life inside my own imagination. When I saw the photos, I emailed my editor and wrote, Yes! She’s perfect!
I was still working on the final edits of the novel--which gave me the opportunity to fine-tune my descriptions of Alessandra and make her look even more unmistakably like the girl in the photos. I already loved Alessandra like a daughter. (Giving literary birth is not all that different from the other kind, either in the daunting labor of the enterprise or the pride and delight one takes in the result!) It was as if my fictional creation had somehow become real.
Of course, I wrote back to Anna Kobylianski immediately. I was dying to know how the photographer managed to find a model who matched my Alessandra, both inside and out, so precisely.
Anna explained, “It was actually quite random that I ended up with the job. The book cover designer’s name is Juliana Kolesova. She was in search of a girl with brown curly hair for the cover of your novel. She is also family friends with a girl who went to my school, and the girl approached me in the halls one day to ask if I was interested in modeling for the cover. I sent Juliana some sample pictures, and after she had approval from the publisher [I was part of that!], we went ahead with it.”
Nineteen-year-old Anna was as amazed at the coincidence as I was, when she read A Golden Web. “At first, this felt a little strange,” she wrote, “as I was reading about a girl living in the Middle Ages, yet who had my features. As the story progressed, I noticed more and more similarities between Alessandra and myself. In essence, it felt as if my Self in its entirety was transported into a different time and slightly different situation.”
Like Alessandra, Anna is the eldest girl of four children who takes her responsibility as a role model and caretaker for her siblings very seriously. She is also, like Alessandra, a gifted artist who enjoys painting, drawing, and working with clay. “And what is even more striking,” Anna confided, “is that this careful work with a paintbrush and fingers easily translates to a desire to pursue the career of a surgeon for me as well.”
I hope I’m not giving away too much of the plot when I tell you that Alessandra Giliani tragically died at the age of 19. Perhaps she’s finally getting the chance, after waiting for 700 years, to live out the rest of the long and glorious life she deserved, courtesy of the brilliant, beautiful, and gracious pre-med student from Canada, Anna Kobylianski.