R.F. Kuang, the acclaimed author of the “The Poppy War” trilogy, has recently released her fifth novel, “Yellowface.”
Since hitting bookshelves on Tuesday, the book has so far earned rave reviews from outlets such as Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Bookpage, the latter of which has dubbed it “poignant and provocative.” Meanwhile, NPR called “Yellowface” a “well-executed, gripping, fast-paced novel.”
In “Yellowface,” Kuang, 26, takes readers on a thrilling ride that explores themes of identity, race and power dynamics within the publishing industry. Readers are introduced to novelist Athena Liu, a rising star in the industry whose untimely death leaves her manuscript in the hands of her fellow writer and frenemy, June Hayward.
June, who is a struggling white writer, decides to publish Athena’s manuscript as her own under the pseudonym Juniper Song. However, after receiving a huge book deal, she struggles to keep up the facade.
Kuang, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in East Asian languages and literature at Yale, revealed in an interview with Salon that her journey in the publishing world is more similar to that of June than of Athena.
It’s interesting that people keep assuming that Athena is based on myself when actually I have very little in common with her aside from being erased and gendered in the same ways. Athena is this kind of Cinderella story, overnight bestseller, has never known failure, and my early publishing experience was a lot more like June’s. The reason why I’m able to write sympathetically about her resentment and frustration with the industry is because I’ve had those thoughts. I’ve had to share in that frustration.
Kuang told the Los Angeles Times that “Yellowface” draws inspiration from real scandals and controversies that have shaken the publishing world, such as the “American Dirt” scandal, in which American author Jeanine Cummins received backlash for writing a novel about Mexican and migrant experiences.
Kuang noted that as an Asian American writer and journalist, she has experienced pressures similar to those faced by her characters.
I used to feel this pressure a lot more. I think I used to really not get along with my editor who edits my fantasy novels. I would feel all the time I was being pressured to whitewash the story to make things accessible. And the lovely thing about that relationship is that we’ve grown together.
While Hollywood may come calling soon, Kuang said she is anxious about the film industry and intends on completing her Ph.D. first.
Kuang is now set to go on a 10-city tour to promote her book.