R. F. Kuang is a tried and true academic. At only twenty-six, Kuang has studied at prestigious institutions such as Georgetown, Oxford, Cambridge, and most recently Yale. She’s a Marshall Scholar with four best-selling novels already under her belt. Her passion for her studies is clear in the way she chooses to incorporate them into her novels. Kuang is a high-fantasy writer known for using the fantastical to examine historical events. Her debut series, The Poppy War Trilogy, draws many parallels to the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. Her first stand-alone, Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution, focuses on the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Historical Fantasy has long been considered the center of Kuang’s brand, which is why it was a surprise to many when she announced that her upcoming novel, Yellowface, would be a literary thriller. Nonetheless, the announcement was met with much excitement. Many readers, including myself, were curious to see how Kuang would transition to a new genre. Yellowface is set to release May 16th, 2023, but I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy from Harper Collins earlier this month. I didn’t intend to, but I ended up reading the book in one sitting. Once I finished I was left with many thoughts, unfortunately, none of them are good.
The most frustrating thing about R.F. Kuang is that despite being a gifted academic she is a deeply uncurious writer. I noticed this while reading some of her other works, but nowhere has it been more obvious than in Yellowface. The problem with Kuang writing literary fiction is that there is no history for her to hide behind. She can no longer fill pages with in-depth research or flex her talent for academic writing. Instead, she has to rely on her imagination, which is shockingly lacking considering she’s a literal fantasy author. Rather than use this opportunity to move outside of her comfort zone, Kuang chooses to retreat even further in.
Unfortunately this is a DNF for me. I read the first chapter and part of the second and can already tell this will not be something I like. The death in chapter one felt very silly and wasn’t emotionally impacting at all, not to mention the main character being pretty awful which I know is intentional but is a bit over the top. The narrative and content are just not interesting to me in the slightest.
This read provides an insight into the publishing industry and the many biases and pressures that writers face throughout their careers. No one is really a good person in this and I guess, that’s the point.
I loved the back-stories of characters, situations and absoutely anything that can be traced back to its origin, so I am more than satisifed with the flurry of details within this book. This was compelling, throught provoking and easily a read I could recommend to anyone.
This is another one of those books where I was in some ways perfectly situated to appreciate it but maybe know a little too much about publishing to be the ideal audience for it?
This is a tough one to review - on the one hand RF Kuang doesn't miss in engaging story telling. On the other hand as a white girl, I find it difficult to comment on the message of the book because it isn't really a story for me.
Thanks Netgalley for giving me a copy of this title in return for an honest review!
Im having a hard time putting my thoughts on this book into words. It was without a doubt a 5 star read for me but I also hated it in so many ways.
June/Jupiter is utterly vile and her actions are despicable even with her “justifications”. I could not stop reading to see what awful thing she’d say or do next. I despised her yet couldn’t help flipping to the next page.
R.F Kuang is a phenomena writer. The pacing is perfect and the prose is capturing. I think she excels in her commentary both on racism and the publishing industry in Yellowface. I cannot recommend this book enough and I cannot wait to hand-sell this title to customers in my own store.
R.F Kuang never dissapoints. Full review on my instagram. Yellowface is a intelligent and snarky take in modern day publishing. In Portugal, it is way more discriminatory than in the US.
Thank you William Morrow for providing me an ARC in exchange for a review.
June and Anthea, who met in college, both share a passion for writing and publishing. Anthea has enjoyed a successful career as an author, while June has struggled, leading to some feelings of jealousy. Anthea, having published several books and built an illustrious career, is currently working on a new project. In a dramatic turn of events, Anthea invites June over for a drink and tragically chokes and dies in front of her. Before leaving, June impulsively takes Anthea’s latest manuscript, reading and editing it, and ultimately takes it with her.
I was completely engrossed in this book and devoured it within a few days. The story fascinated me on several levels. It offered an interesting insight into the publishing industry and June's journey moving forward. This was unlike anything I've read before.
Absolutely unhinged and enthralling read that I could not put down. The first person narrative of the deeply unlikeable protagonist made me want to pull my hair out because she is exactly the kind of white, privileged woman that we've all met before. Juniper makes awful decisions and subsequently victimizes herself after trying to pass off an Asian author's work as her own. Reading from her perspective gives you a front seat to her disturbed and twisted reasoning, such that you will start to see how good white tears can be at convincing you otherwise.
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang is a masterful commentary on race and on the authority and ownership of diaspora stories, and includes interesting insight into social media's influence on the publishing world. As an Asian reader curious about the inner drama of publishing, I enjoyed it thoroughly and would highly recommend it!
I waited too long to read this. This was a captivating, original, intriguing story that felt REAL. Who is the villain? Do I side with the villain or the MC? This is my first book by RF Kuang and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. The first person narration fully immersed me inside the thoughts of the MC and it was perfection.
Oh wow this book is such an amazing satirical look at the publishing industry. It is brimming at the seams with unlikeable characters and if it had been a movie I’d have been watching from behind a cushion as I was cringing so bad at Juniper’s behaviour at multiple points. Fascinating and horrifying in equal measure, this would make a fantastic bookclub choice as there is so much to discuss!
Overall an entertaining read!
Loved the antagonist POV and I was enthralled until the halfway mark but it started to become a bit too fanatical for my tastes. Overall still a great read and I know this is technically satire but I find it hilarious that this was actually published despite it’s damning content.
The book is a reflection of what is happening in publishing and what I have seen on social media - so it was a little predictable for me. The book, however, is thought provoking.
A meta novel with insights into race and society. R.F. Kuang is such a talent and brings her skills to literary fiction in this novel about writers.
I absolutely loved this book and found R.F Kuang's satirical look at the publishing industry, and the world in general, as sharp, smart, biting, and brutally truthful. I love that the author did not shy away from making the book's protagonist a totally unreliable, unlikeable narrator, one that the reader can't put down! Well done. This surprised me and made me think. Highly recommend.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of Yellowface by R. F. Kuang.
The Most Anticipated Mystery and Thriller Books of 2023
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
It’s been incredible watching R.F. Kuang effortlessly genre-hop over the last few years. SFF readers know her from the epic fantasy trilogy The Poppy War, but then she dazzled with last year’s Babel, an alternate-history fantasy that takes down British colonialism by way of magic-infused silver bars activated by the power of translation. While Yellowface is her first book more rooted in realism, it’s clearly a tonal successor to Babel, as a satirical literary thriller skewering the publishing industry’s deep-rooted diversity problems.
Rising author June Hayward watches fellow Yale grad Athena Liu outshine her in their debut year, but when Athena dies in a freak accident, leaving behind a brilliant unpublished manuscript, June leaps at the chance to rebrand herself as ambiguously ethnic Juniper Song. Because what’s most important is telling this woman of color’s story, even if a white woman has stolen it… right?
Wow! Yellowface was an absolute wild ride. I loved this book and R.F. Kuang's writing really made me think. While it was a departure from her other books, it showed the breadth of her skill as a writer. I particularly loved how Kuang brought us into the mind of June. She inhabited this character well in her writing.
I loved this book. The unlikeable characters and ultimate conclusion. This reminded me a lot of Disorientation.
I realized by a third of the way into the book that the title, Yellowface, refers to the old practice of using ethnic white actors to portray East Asian characters in film and on stage.
The title was fitting for this novel, I thought, as the main character and book narrator, June Hayward, not only stole the unpublished manuscript of her Yale college friend - acclaimed Chinese American author, Athena Liu - but also tried to claim to be Chinese by changing her name from June Hayward to Juniper Song. Her book photograph also made her seem to be Asian.
Athena's book detailed the World War I Chinese Corps of workers who went to Europe to help the Allies by doing the drudge work of war. June had to justify knowledge of that subject matter and appear to be an expert also on the Chinese and Chinese history.
This was a complex novel as it was told from only June's point of view. I didn't know whether to hate or to pity her for her devious strategies to gain fame and fortune from the stolen manuscript and to maintain her false identity as a Chinese writer.
I saw the book had two purposes, however, to show the history of Yellowfacing and racism, and also to reveal the pitfalls of the publishing industry for writers. June felt the publishing world's need for diversity, which led them to focus on promoting promising authors like Athena Liu, giving extra publicity and help to get a book on its way.
I thought this novel was a brilliant addition to literary fiction and Asian American literature.