YELLOWFACE book review
Photo of author- credit - New York Times
Strap in and get ready for this one, which definitely lives up to its early buzz in the book industry! Author Rebecca F. Kuang steps away from her established genre of fantasy to deliver a beguiling lit fic story of diversity, racism, cultural appropriation and plagiarism. The book focuses on a first-person account of June Hayward, a young white writer with aspirations to be majorly successful novelists. After one book that earned her no attention and dismal little sales, she becomes obsessively jealous of her former college classmate, Athena, a hugely successful, talented and popular Asian author.
An unfortunate situation gives way to an opportunity for June to steal from Athena's not-yet-submitted manuscript and pawn off as her own. Even to her own surprise, she quickly lands a better agent and bidding war ensues for “her masterpiece,” The Last Front, a fictionalization about a little-known period in Chinese history. June and her agent decide to go with a hot-shot independent (white) publisher that will give her the attention she and her book deserve. Throughout the publishing process, staffers raise concerns of public perception to a non-Asian author tackling her topic and characters and request authentication, which June refuses to comply with. Since she is a young writer with the most sought-after manuscript, the issue is not pressed. Instead they compromise by deciding to tweak her name, giving it an Asian flare, Juniper Song. From that point on, she and her editor, Daniella widdle down at the story’s original strength and truth. Let the whitewashing begin as the below excerpt displays.
Reading should be an enjoyable experience, not a chore. We soften the language. We take out all to “Chinks” and “Coolies.” “Perhaps you mean this as subversive, writes Daniella in the comments, but in this day and age, there’s no need for such discriminatory language. We don’t want to trigger readers.” We also soften some of the white characters. No, it’s no as bad as you think. Athena’s original text is almost embarrassingly biased; the French and British soldiers are cartoonishly racist… instead we switch one of the white bullies to a Chinese character, and one of the more vocal Chinese laborers to a sympathetic white farmer. This adds the complexity, the humanistic nuance that perhaps Athena was too close to the project to see.
Juniper’s book strikes publishing gold and changes the trajectory of her career and life, at first for the better, then not so much. She will not only deal with the realities of online scrutiny and cancel culture, but eventually will have to grapple with her own deciept and inner demons. Will this bring her the fame and fortune that has "unfairly" eluded her? Since she researched some of the story and added to the manuscript, isn't it hers? Can only BIPOC writers tell BIPOC stories? Hasn't she been the victim of reverse discrimination? Readers will see how the answers to all of these questions/issues and more get explored in this page-turning thriller. Readers of all races and ages will be just as surprised and enthralled as they are entertained. Yellowface successfully joins ranks with clever dark comedy novels, like Interior Chinatown and Hell of a Book, that brilliantly have their stories deliver poignant messages of racism while allowing the readers laugh-out-loud moments throughout. The only thing that could have made this book even better, allowing for a full circle publishing situation, is if it had been published by Macmillan.
Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang will be released on May 23, 2023 by Harpercollins Books
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