"Envy, ambition, arrogance, appropriation and racism — this smokin’ hot story of literary subterfuge cuts to the core of contemporary culture and human behaviour."
Love books about writers and the world of publishing? Love smart fiction that unlocks contemporary culture with fresh eyes? If so, you need to read Rebecca Kuang’s Yellowface right now.
Presenting a brilliant exposé of publishing and writers from all angles, Yellowface is razor-sharp witty, honest and incisive. It also boasts all the power of a thriller with satirical sting as it explores cultural appropriation, cancel culture, personal ambition and envy, and the vitriol engendered by social media. And all this is wrapped up in page-turning style.
Writers June Hayward and Athena Liu met in their freshman year at Yale, and became kind-of friends because they were “always in the same place, doing the same things - so it was convenient to be friendly”. On graduating, their literary careers took vastly different trajectories, with Athena now in the enviable position of having “everything… At twenty-seven, she’s published three novels, each one a successively bigger hit. For Athena, the Netflix deal was not a life-changing event, just another feather in her cap”.
In contrast, June’s novel didn’t even get a paperback, and it’s fair to say she’s somewhat bitter: “Publishing picks a winner — someone attractive enough, someone cool and young and oh, we’re all thinking it, let’s just say it, diverse enough – and lavishes all its money and resources on them. It’s so fucking arbitrary”.
Then, while the women seem to be genuinely bonding over drinks, after witnessing Athena choke to death, June takes the fresh-from-a-vintage-typewriter manuscript for her new novel. The early draft of a brilliant epic about the contributions of Chinese labourers to British and French war efforts during WWI, June winds up editing it, adding to it, and submitting it to publishers in her own name.
After June lands a life-changing deal, the marketing and publicity teams raise potential issues around the cultural authenticity of the novel. As a result, June is given a new name (the deliberately ambiguous “Juniper Song”) and positioned as being “worldly”. At the same time, the novel’s Korean American editorial assistant wants it to be checked by a sensitivity reader, a suggestion that’s batted off by June.
As June’s star rises, and she enjoys the kind of attention and sales most writers can only dream of, she finds herself going to escalating extremes to protect the lies she’s spun. The result is gob-smackingly gripping, cringe-some and downright shocking as the story reveals a hot mess of cultural imperialism, appropriation and racism. What a novel.
|Thriller and Suspense