Yellowface – R.F. Kuang

What’s the harm in a pseudonym? New York Times 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.

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody 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 to the British and French war efforts 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 takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

Book Info: Print length: 326 pages. Publisher: The Borough Press. Publication Day: 25 May 2023

Rebecca F. Kuang is the #1 New York Times bestselling and Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of Babel, the Poppy War trilogy, and the forthcoming Yellowface. She is a Marshall Scholar, translator, and has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford. She is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.

My Review:

Yellowface for me is an absolute breath of fresh air. It’s topical, entertaining, informative, educational, shocking, hilarious, sad and easily goes into my Top Ten books of 2023.

In case you didn’t realise, I do love to read. I worship at the alter of authors, I’m in awe of publishers and jealous of anyone who gets paid to work in this incredible industry. I am also extremely naive when it comes to how a book begins it’s journey from an idea on a post-it note to the bookshelves at Waterstones. So, if like me, you have no real knowledge of what goes on behind closed door and how much is involved in creating the next New York Times Best-seller, then grab yourself a copy of Yellowface and prepare to be shocked.

Two women, friends since University – Athena is hugely successful and rich, a best-selling author with a Netflix show on the way, the other June wrote a book which failed to sell and now she teaches whilst jealously watching Anthena’s star burn brightly.

When a freak accident occurs June sees the opportunity she believes she honestly deserves and takes Anthena’s unpublished manuscript, passing it off as her own.

I’m not going to rehash what the book is about as the description above says it all, but I can tell you that I read this book within a day. This is an absolutely FASCINATING story about the perils of publishing, the terrifying twitter trolls, the callousness of being cancelled and the downside of being the next big thing.

This book should have the warning “Be careful what you wish for” because in June’s case things really don’t always look greener on the other side.

TOPICAL, TOXIC and absolutely TERRIFIC. 5 huge shiny stars from me and straight in to my Top Ten of 2023

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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