cover image Yellowface


R.F. Kuang. Morrow, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-325083-3

A struggling novelist passes off a manuscript left by her dead college friend in this excellent satire from Kuang (Babel, or the Necessity of Violence). Athena Liu, who is Chinese American, dies accidentally by choking at her Washington, D.C., apartment while celebrating a movie deal for one of her novels. At the celebration is June Hayward, who met Athena when they were at Yale together, and whose own career has stalled after her publisher folded. Since then, while watching Athena’s meteoric rise, she came to find her old friend “unbearable.” In the commotion after Athena’s death, June, who is white, pilfers a manuscript from her desk. Titled The Last Front, it’s a historical novel about the role of Chinese laborers in WWI. After June gets a six-figure deal for it, she excises slurs used against Chinese laborers and adds a love story between a white woman and a Chinese soldier. Against objections from Candice Lee, a Korean American editorial assistant, the book goes to market, where it climbs up the bestseller list and attracts a vociferous backlash from the AAPI community, plus a scathing review from a prominent critic, who calls it a “white redemption” narrative. June grows increasingly anxious as she’s accused online by @AthenaLiusGhost of stealing Athena’s work, then starts thinking she’s seeing Athena at readings and around town. Kuang provides a sharp analysis of publishing’s blind spots and guides the plot toward a thrilling face-off between June and Athena’s “ghost.” This is not to be missed. Agent: Hannah Bowman, Liz Dawson Assoc. (May)