The figurative language of Rebecca Kuang

Reading time: About 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similes from Rebecca Kuang…

The plot of the book is delicious. Two young authors — one a rising literary star, the other in the shadows — have a drink together. The literary star dies in a freak accident and the lesser known one steals her manuscript and publishes it under her own name. What happens then?

The novel Yellowface, by Rebecca Kuang, takes on diversity, racism, cultural appropriation, and the peccadillos of the publishing industry in one fell swoop. I read it in a day and enjoyed it thoroughly. Kuang is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of the Poppy War trilogy and Babel: An Arcane History. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford. She is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.

Besides all her academic credentials, she also has a well-trained eye and ear for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples from Yellowface:

  • You can tell when you have command of a room. There’s a certain hushed silence, a tension, like you have a grappling hook in everyone’s chest and the lines are pulled taut.
  • Reading discourse about myself is like prodding at a sore tooth. I’m compelled to keep digging, just to see how far the rot goes.
  • You enjoy this delightful waterfall of attention when your book is the latest breakout success.
  • The barista’s hair was a desperate shade of purple.
  • The woman at the table beside her drew out the word ‘yes’ like a stalling tactic.
  • The boss’s name slid off the doorman’s tongue like rusty pennies.
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