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  • Writer's pictureShruti Jain

The Ghosts Within: Exposing the Hypocrisy of the Publishing World through R.F. Kuang's "Yellowface"

Yellowface Review
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

If the book's opening line drops the word “die,” you should know you are in for a turn of events that will drag you through some seriously messed-up stuff, plunging you into morality-shaped holes. Sounds like a horror story, no?

‘Yellowface’ by RF Kuang is exactly that but with horrors involving ghosts that live within each of us. It will make you shudder at the loneliness of an author, even though she is surrounded by an entourage of actors including agents, publicists, editors, the marketing team, and finally her audience, who are tasked to turn her manuscript (a plagiarised one at that) into the next “big thing”.

"I wonder if that’s the final, obscure part of how publishing works: if the books that become big do so because at some point everyone decided, for no good reason at all, that this would be the title of the moment."

‘Yellowface’ is not your recipe book on how to break into the publishing world, and navigate your way through literary agencies, parties, book clubs, and meetings. Instead, it is a gripping tale that offers a raw glimpse into the inner workings of the publishing industry, fueled by token representation and a semblance of diversity.

“Diversity is what’s selling right now. Editors are hungry for marginalized voices. You’ll get plenty of opportunities for being different, Emmy. I mean, a queer Asian girl? That’s every checkbox on the list. They’ll be slobbering all over this manuscript.”

Through the eyes of the protagonist—an author perpetually caught between the serotonin rush of a glowing five-star review on Goodreads and the crippling anxiety induced by a Twitter thread condemning her cultural appropriation—we witness the complex balancing act she must perform.

"...even if you capture the entire literary world in the palm of your hand, it can still forget about you in the blink of the eye...I need to write the next best thing. And then another. Otherwise the sales will whittle down, and people will stop reading my work, and everyone will forget about me.”

There is much to be said about the title itself, which refers to the practice of imitating the appearance of an East Asian person—something that the protagonist of the book does in an unquestionably offensive manner. As a reader, you’ll find yourself wanting to hate her right from the first page, because, let’s face it: she is a racist white woman, filled with jealousy towards her deceased friend and devoid of inspiration. And yet Kuang will make you want to protect her, at all costs, till the end. She will make you question your own dilemmas and the falsities that exist within yourself, under the garb of your personally constructed narrative, where you believe your intentions are indeed noble.

Kuang wants to call out your hypocrisy, because “the truth”, at the end of the day, “is fluid”.

"I will craft, and sell, a story about how the pressures of publishing have made it impossible for white and nonwhite authors alike to succeed...About how my hoax—because let’s frame it as a hoax, not a theft—was really a way to expose the rotten foundations of this entire industry. About how I am the hero, in the end."

‘Yellowface’ is a must-read if you ever want to see the dark side of the publishing industry, or an author, or perhaps, yourself.

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