Earlier this year, I read Babel by R.F. Kuang and I was impressed by the scope and amount of research that went into it. So when I saw that the same author had a new book out called Yellowface, I put it on hold at the library without doing any research about what the book was actually about.
This book is very cleverly done. The main character has plagiarized from her dead friend, but somehow she manages to convince herself that she's a victim. She's absolutely terrible and makes terrible decision after terrible decision. But Kuang has developed this character so that we as readers are culpable in her immorality because we sort of root for her. At the end, you have to really sit with yourself and see if you want her to get her comeuppance or if you want her to succeed. And the answer to that will reveal a lot about yourself.
Is this book satire? Is it a loose autobiography? Is its audience meant to be white people who have to come to grips with their own passive roles in the diminishing of art by people of color? Is its audience meant to be people of color to come together to appreciate the biting insights of exactly how terrible white creative people are?
I don't have answers to these questions. As a white lady, many of the barbed criticisms in the book landed way too close to my heart. Also, as a white lady, I think I should stay quiet and allow the voices of women in publishing, particularly women of color, to shine through.
I don't think I'd have read this is if I'd known the main thesis. But I also found it readable, insightful, and difficult. I'll leave it to you to decide if this abrupt genre shift from fantasy to literary fiction/literary criticism is for you. 3.5/5 stars
Lines of note:
Silence isn't an option. Everyone has to declare a side, or they're accused of complicity. (page 142)
Social media is such a no-win situation. Do you remember the blackbox Tuesday on Instagram when everyone posted a black box in their feed? I always think about how paralyzed I was by whether or not to participate. On one hand, I did want to show support to protestors who were so energized by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a murderous police officer. On the other hand, if I participated, would I be grief vulturing? Would be inserting myself into a movement that didn't want me there? I was not going to spend the entire day in a workstop, so if I posted it, would I be sending the wrong message? BUT. If I didn't participate, would it really just mean to my followers that I didn't care about George Floyd of the plight of people who are not safe interacting with law enforcement officers? Silence as complicity.
I think about this a lot.
Not every girl has a rape story. But almost every girl has an "I'm not sure, I didn't like it, but I can't quite call it rape" story. (page 205)
I think we need to really make sure that when we're talking about consent for sexual activity, we stress that it should be enthusiastic consent. There should be no grey areas.
Writing is the closest thing to real magic. Writing is creating something out of nothing, is opening doors to other lands. Writing gives you power to shape your own world when the real one hurts too much. To stop writing would kill me. (page 225)
I love Kuang's love for her craft.