18 Comments
Jul 21, 2023Liked by Chris Jesu Lee

Frankly the disparity in the treatment of Yellowface (and TOBG) vs what's-his-face is not super complicated. He is advocating for diversity of thought, they are advocating for diversity of skin color only. Also, he is calling out woke white people, who actually exist in the publishing space, they are calling out racist white people, who don't. Their "parody" is attacking imaginary people who don't exist in order to advocate for more of the same, his is attacking the real people that do exist in order to argue for a fundamental change to the system.

Expand full comment

I good way of finding out home many copies a book has sold is to see how many reviews they got on Goodreads. The Other Black Girl did not do well and I don't thing Zakiya Dalila Harris will be getting another book deal. Yellowface is a modest hit, but it is not as popular as Babel and The Poppy War trilogy. R. F. Kuang's flame seems to have brunt too bright and too fast. I listened to some reviews of Yellowface on YouTube and they all came to the same conclusion: R. F. Kuang is extremely intelligent, highly educated and has an astonishing work ethic. She has also been isolated in silos of White dominated privilege her entire life and lacks the experience, insight and maturity to write immersive fiction. She's passionate and didactic, struggles with nuance and humility - all the usual flaws of ambitious and talented youth. She's only 27 and Harris is 31. I hope they both grow as writers and people, and are able to gift the world with good, honest writing in the future.

Expand full comment

Wonderful essay. "The truth is that vindictiveness and insecurity are narrative gold!" Here, here. I'm glad I discovered your Substack.

Expand full comment
Sep 7, 2023Liked by Chris Jesu Lee

Really enjoying reading thru ur stuff. I think whats interesting to me about TOBG is how the premise when you described it at first was genuinely interesting. A black woman’s Devil Wears Prada, you could still do a “woke” version of the story by emphasizing that it’s not right for black women to fight against eachother but it couldve been fun and funny to read two elites in an industry that is competitive but also meaningless engage in petty sabotage and maybe make up and burn it all down. You could do a moralist take on that kind of story and still win over a guy like me who’s a white working class edgelord loser with immense cultural ignorance lol

However as soon as the cream plotline got introduced in your explanation I immediately turned off. It’s this weird pulpification of novels, where they now have comic book, video game style plotlines about secret conspiracies to make people into jelly to steal the black girl magic for themselves and raise the problematic dead white authors or something. Very uninteresting. Very YA, and I love pulp I love comic books I love lowbrow fiction but I do miss premises like that of Devil Wears Prada or Monster in Law (I like romcoms) where it’s character-based, light-hearted and charming. Imagine As Good As It Gets made today: Jack Nickolson’s OCD would be caused by a magic stone that Carol needs to go into his body with a giant spaceship to destroy. Just an example, it’s a shame

I wouldnt be surprised if the next incarnation of this kind of book involves a multiverse

Expand full comment

As a young(ish) nonwhite second-generation Asian dude who once harbored thoughts of being (gasp) a professional writer, this article makes me grateful I never went down that path. Writing still has its charms, but being a writer is another thing entirely.

Also, if you are still in NYC, I would love to have the opportunity to buy you a drink some time. Your articles make me wish I had someone like you to serve as an Asian guy mentor growing up.

Expand full comment
Jul 20, 2023Liked by Chris Jesu Lee

Bastet's tail, these humans sure do navelgaze! How much can one human self-obsess? And it's not as if they were higher beings like cats.

Although I do admit that I find the name "Shartricia" to be hilarious in a kittenish way.

Anyway, there is a long history of rock bands recording songs criticizing the recording industry, going back at least to "Working for MCA" by Lynyrd Skynyrd and probably well before that. The record companies don't care if they or their executives are parodied or insulted, as long as the music sells.

Expand full comment

I enjoyed your review of Yellowface. I can't say I reached the same conclusions in my Substack review (which makes sense: if one assumes i) the worst initial intent of the protag and ii) her lack of prior success as being the natural result of her lack of talent—IOW, if you've already internalized the industry's biases—the rest of the analysis has to follow a certain way).

I thought *all* the writers in Yellowface, including Athena, were portrayed as victims of a system that's set up to compromise artistic integrity at every turn.

But that does call your question: How can the industry endorse such a message? IMO, it's just that [virtually] no readers can see beyond their identity-centric prism long enough to absorb the plain message of the book. Kuang says as much in her interviews.

Expand full comment

I good way of finding out home many copies a book has sold is to see how many reviews they got on Goodreads. The Other Black Girl did not do well and I don't thing Zakiya Dalila Harris will be getting another book deal. Yellowface is a modest hit, but it is not as popular as Babel and The Poppy War trilogy. R. F. Kuang's flame seems to have brunt too bright and too fast. I listened to some reviews of Yellowface on YouTube and they all came to the same conclusion: R. F. Kuang is extremely intelligent, highly educated and has an astonishing work ethic. She has also been isolated in silos of White dominated privilege her entire life and lacks the experience, insight and maturity to write immersive fiction. She's passionate and didactic, struggles with nuance and humility - all the usual flaws of ambitious and talented youth. She's only 27 and Harris is 31. I hope they both grow as writers and people, and are able to gift the world with good, honest writing in the future.

Expand full comment