A page turner, set around publishing, writing and the notion of ownership but also about cultural appropriation, institutional racism, tokenism, copyright, ethics, morals and jealousy. 'Yellowface' by R.F.KUNG is comprised of a story on friendship and rivalry, uncovering fake pleasantries, showcasing layers of deceit.
Athena Liu is a successful author which many envy, including her friend Juniper Jayward who hasn’t been as successful as Liu. One evening, after bonding together and after much drink, Athena Liu has a fatal accident, leaving Jayward face to face with Liu’s unpublished manuscript on the contributions of Chinese Labourers during WWI, and with the thought of taking the manuscript.
We follow writer Juniper Jayward as she edits Liu’s novel and passes it off as her own, renaming herself Juniper Song, acting cryptic around questions about her background and why she came to choose her book's subject.
As the deception becomes greater and greater, and Jayward convinces herself that she is doing the right thing, telling people she is Asian instead of white, she spirals into questionable morals and ethics, answering to her green eyed monster and feeding her egotistical need for success, with the quest to continue feeling the highs of the praise she received for the novel; a novel she hasn’t written but continuously persuades others and herself that she has. It is difficult to like Jayward, but all throughout the novel, one wishes to plead with her to stop.
The book is gritty, smart, a gripping read, opening up to important questions and issues, such as whether the agents and publishers in the novel were actually aware of the trickery and placed profits before ethics, on institutional racism and tokenism in work, on what society values, on if success is the most celebrated aspect of life, on what is success, on what role social media plays towards how we are feeling, on why people are jealous, on why people feel jealous of their friend’s success, on what is friendship, on how far humanity would go to achieve what they want, on what is creative plagiarism, who owns a story, do we understand empathy, where do we place principals and morals in our world and why do profits, money and what is defined as success seem to come first.
These questions are valid and seeped cleverly into the story, but the answers are harder to find, because sadly the issues are ever so present in our world.
The arts and humanities are a great way to place a mirror in front of these issues. Perhaps through ‘Yellowface’ ’s own success, these questions will shake up what is valued and cared about, and highlight that a person’s own unique path is their success, and that success comes in multitude of ways, it is not neccessarily about the loudest applause.
Yellowface by R. F. Kuang, published by HarperCollins