Review: Yellowface - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

White lies. Dark humor. Deadly consequences… Bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American—in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R.F. Kuang, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Babel. 

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars. But Athena’s a literary darling. June Hayward is literally nobody. Who wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song—complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface grapples with questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation, as well as the terrifying alienation of social media. R.F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

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Review: Yellowface
By R.F. Kuang

Review: Yellowface

Through the spiraling aftermath of an author stealing another author’s manuscript, R.F. Kuang delivers a powerful satire (and searing critique) of the commercial publishing industry.

June Hayward and Athena Liu met as aspiring writers and classmates at Yale. After graduating, Athena becomes a literary darling, while June’s career fares less illustriously (to her deepening jealousy). During a night of celebration between the two quasi friends, Athena (Chinese American) dies in a freak accident, while June (White) walks away with her manuscript about WWI Chinese Labour Corps.

After some edits (which June believes make the manuscript her own), she submits the novel, which once released, rockets to the New York bestsellers list. June becomes the new publishing ‘it girl,’ relishing in the adoration, popularity, and wealth of it all. Not long after, however, fractures begin to tear apart the lie—Twitter’s cancel culture takes hold, people question authorship and claim appropriation, while the media slings accusations she can’t silence.

As June’s lies and coverups go from bad to worse, you can’t help but cringe at her audacity and reel from the storm of bad decision making and resulting performativity.

I devoured this novel; clamored to see what would become of June Hayward. But perhaps one of the many brilliant things of this literary thriller is how—through it’s sharply penned satire—it evokes both uneasiness and enjoyment in equal measure. Probing into powder-keg topics like systemic racism, greed, and appropriation isn’t supposed to put us readers at ease.

Following Babel (which was outstanding), this is my second book by Kuang. I’m deeply impressed with her range, her unflinching approach, and her clearly meticulously researched and taut storytelling.

I’m quickly becoming R.F. Kuang’s biggest fan and cannot wait for what’s next to come.

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