I had heard of Rebecca F. Kuang’s Babel and The Poppy War prior to getting a copy of the proof but I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction. But when I read Yellowface’s synopsis, I dived right into it the start of 2023. Although everyone knows my feelings for first person perspective in fiction, I immediately loved how Kuang’s opened up the book from the first sentence.
Yellowface is an excellent book from start to finish. June Hayward aka Juniper Song’s villainous side is shown from the get-go. From her jealousy of Athena Liu’s success (even though she is just as awful as a person), to when she made the editorial assistant Candace get fired for understandable suspicions of the manuscript, it reminded me of how certain White people I’ve encountered in real-life can really cut corners to get to where they need to be and will stop at nothing to achieve it.
And Kuang doesn’t hold back, particularly with how Hayward feels victimised at every point and tries to cover her tracks so no-one (and even deluding herself in my opinion) knows she stole Athena’s work. It really shows how an outlook of how some people in publishing and the writing world will steal ideas from others and not understand the consequences of their actions, or in June’s case, having the privilege to do so.
Rightfully so, the backlash starts getting to her and when her second books comes out and she’s caught, reality still doesn’t seem to hit her. One red flag I had from the very beginning was rebranding herself with a different name and not even thinking “Yeah, that’s a bit bait. Let’s not do that.” Because if I was in a car with a white woman who was called Juniper Song, I too would ask if she has some Chinese or Korean ancestry like Susan Lee did.
My only complaints for Yellowface is that following June got tiresome. I wish that Junie and Athena had a friend whose perspective we could read from. I find it hard to believe both of them didn’t have any friends from university in their writing classes but it’s also likely an ego thing, but to only have each other till the very end…is odd. Perhaps the second perspective could have been Athena’s mum, Candace or someone from Yale they didn’t know.
Otherwise, it’s amazing. Top 5 books of all time for me. And June got what she deserved. We love to see.
There’s no better way to match this book than with a dish that feels like it’s been whitewashed and made more appealing for a Western audience. I chose Dean’s Cheesesteak Egg Rolls from their blog, TheWellSeasonedLibrarian for this reason as it’s a fusion of deep-fried roll with a cheesesteak filling and peppery ingredients. It’s also packed in a way that an average person like June would eat, since her trip to Chinatown ended badly.
I think it’s only fitting a dish like this goes well with Yellowface. The full ingredient list and how-to method can be found here.