R.F. Kuang’s new novel Yellowface has debuted, receiving praise from book critics across the country.
Kuang is an American fantasy writer known for her works The Poppy War Trilogy and Babel. She emigrated from Guangzhou, China when she was just a young girl and grew up in Dallas. According to the Washington City Paper, she attended Georgetown University and published her debut novel before she was 22.
Most of Kuang’s fictional works are historical fantasies that deal with colonialism and its impact. According to the Seattle Times, Yellowface is a contemporary novel that satirizes the publishing industry.
“During early 2021, publishing had been through a lot of watershed moments and soul-searching moments: Who’s in charge at these imprints? What kind of voices are being elevated? What is the distribution of advances like? The news was very, very bad,” Kuang said in an interview with the Seattle Times.
“A lot of writers were having all these conversations about where the industry was headed, where its problems were and what we could possibly do to fix it. All of this was going on for so long that naturally my subconscious decided, “OK, it’s time to write a novel about it.”
According to The New York Times, the novel follows June Hayward, a white woman in her late 20s whose writing career floundered after a failed debut novel. Hayward is friends with successful Asian American author Athena Liu.
“It’s a breezy and propulsive read, a satirical literary thriller that’s enjoyable and uncomfortable in equal measure; occasionally, it skirts the edges of a ghost story,” Amal El-Mohtar wrote in a review of Yellowface for the New York Times. “It’s also the most granular critique of commercial publishing I’ve encountered in fiction, and seeing the cruel, indifferent vagaries of one’s industry so ably skewered is viciously satisfying.”
The novel discusses white privilege and cultural appropriation.
“The story is a multi-layer, complex conversation that tackles a few things about the publishing industry at once,” Keishel Williams wrote in a review for NPR. “The topic of cultural appropriation galvanizes the entire story and at various angles challenges the idea of what kind of stories writers are allowed to write given their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.”
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