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The Souls of Yellow Folk

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  425 ratings  ·  89 reviews
One of the most acclaimed essayists of his generation, Wesley Yang writes about race and sex without the jargon, formulas, and polite lies that bore us all. His powerful debut, The Souls of Yellow Folk, does more than collect a decade’s worth of cult-reputation essays—it corrals new American herds of pickup artists, school shooters, mandarin zombies, and immigrant strivers, and ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 13th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
While I liked some of these essays, including the last one “What is White Supremacy”, my main problem with this collection is that my expectations were disappointed. That is primarily the fault of the totally misleading title of the book. I wanted some analysis of race from the point of view of Asian Americans. Instead I got a bunch of rambling essays, most of which were not about Asian Americans at all. It’s also a very male-oriented book. For example, instead of just describing a training cour ...more
Esther Espeland
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Okay! Book has a great title, but it is very misleading! Went into this expecting/hoping for a book of essays explicitly about Asian-American experiences. There are a couple essays on race (the first one which I had read already, about the Virginia tech shooter who was a Korean-American, is great). Rather, a selection of essays spanning Yangs career most of which are profiles of people/cultural events from ten years ago. It’s 2018 baby! I’m not trying to read a bunch of think pieces about people ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 largely exemplary essays and portraits with a few puff pieces that are at very least perfectly formed and entertaining.
Teddy Kupfer
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Was able to get an advance copy thru work, but everything in here has been previously published, so I figure it's OK to write this. Man, what a good writer.

First essay, "The Face of Seung-Hui Cho," is an intensely personal piece about what it is like to be an Asian American man in today's U.S.: to be someone who "knows what it's like to have a cultural code superimposed atop your face," a code that "abashes, nullifies, and unmans you." When he passes an Asian man alone on the street, he writes:
Oliver Kim
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If, this year, I were given free license by society to ascend to the top of my over-priced, under-maintained Berkeley apartment, unlock the service door, climb to the rooftop, and shout from the rafters a single book recommendation to the confused onlookers below, Wesley Yang’s The Souls of Yellow Folk would be my unequivocal pick.

It’s deeply necessary, provocative, electric, and all those other book-reviewer adjectives that seem at once flat and hyperbolic with two weeks’ hindsight.
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
You can't have it both ways, Yang. You can't decry identity politics and also write a book about the oppression of Asian men. You can't summon the great W.E.B. Dubois and not actually deal with the soul of yellow folk. This is just a collection of essays written by Yang about a large variety of topics. I loved his exploration of asian men and their unique struggles. I agree with him and I was willing to go with him on that journey, but then he starts calling out the very folks who he should be w ...more
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
It's not necessarily the quality of the writing that's an issue but the packaging and also the message of what's being said. Initially, I was very intrigued by what a book with this title (a riff off W.E.B DuBois' SOULS OF BLACK FOLK) may interrogate in race for Asian/Pacific Islanders, sadly it falls way below expectation. Essentially the title is WAY off base for this text and it would be better served to not try and cash in on Black awareness in prose to make this one stand out more.

All of t
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've never heard these facts articulated. Racism against Asians is so downplayed.
John Pistelli
It was once a pop-socio-psychological commonplace of American foreign-policy commentary that terrorism on behalf of political Islam was motivated less by ideology and more by an intractable reality of gender: young men with no prospects in their societies will inevitably become violently anti-social. Maybe people still say that about what used to be called "the Arab street," but the consensus in the west today is that males (and other longstanding elites) can be displaced from their previous pos ...more
Samarth Gupta
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very though provoking collection of essays that touch on race, masculinity, gender, dating, social media, etc. Quotes that make me think:

“By this I mean something that has in recent years escaped from the obscurity in which it was once shrouded, even as it was always the most salient of all facts, the one most readily on display, the thing that was unspeakable precisely because it need never be spoken: that as the bearer of an Asian face in America, you paid some incremental penalt
David M
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Yang mines some profoundly icky, uncomfortable territory in this little book

Sometimes I'll glimpse my reflection in a window and feel astonished by what I see. Jet-black hair. Slanted eyes. A pancake-flat surface of yellow-and-green-toned skin. An expression that is nearly reptilian in its passivity...

Most the reviews from liberal publications seem to have been negative. On the one hand, I get where they're coming from. Is Yang 's complexion honestly green? Reptilian? really? It's pretty rare these days to see/>Sometimes
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Fine. Fine. Fine.

I should caveat all of this with my general dislike of essay collections, and boy does this one suffer in particular from being of the particular genre known best as Internet Writing. Some of these are extremely de rigeur topics that just haven't aged well in terms of seeming important to take up space in a slim 200-page book; some part of my brain once knew or cared about the "Tiger Mom" debate, but this was like ninety billion iterations of The Discourse ago.
Leigh Anne
Dec 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Not what you think it's going to be, but not bad.

If you picked up this book expecting in-depth assessments of what it's like to be Asian American today, you're going to be disappointed. If you can get past that and read all the essays, however, you'll come away with some gems.

Emphasis on "some." When Yang is good, he's really, really good. "Eddie Huang Against the World" and "The Life and Afterlife of Aaron Swartz" are very good. "Game Theory" is disturbing and hilarious
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was ok

I think Yang is going to make a fantastic True Crime writer some day. His passion is clear and True Crime fans will find several essays here of interest.

I was not a fan of this book. I'm not a True Crime fan, and I couldn't shake the sense that Yang's worldview considers women relatively irrelevant and holds them in high reproach when they don't love him for that. I suspect men will prefer this book more than women and enbies, but only time and data will tell that tal
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Given the title, I was expecting this book to be about an Asian-American experience, but the majority of the book is a collection of Yang's essays on disparate topics that have nothing to do with Asian-American identity. 'The Souls of Yellow Folk' is such a misleading title, if not wholly appropriative for aligning Asian-American issues with black issues.
Heather Chi
Feb 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
I’m sorry (not sorry). This is NOT the Asian answer to The Souls Of Black Folk: these are a set of polished essays from 2009 onwards that center on mostly antiquated and some thoroughly wrong-headed racial and social politics. At least two pieces are openly sympathetic to PUAs for eg. so: ZZZ.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Book of unconnected essays that doesn't really cohere into anything, but the sentence-level writing is so good I didn't really care. A couple of the essays are duds. My favorite essays involved Yang dissecting Asian-American identity, masculinity, and sexuality. I think he will write a memoir one day and it will be very good.


Asian-Americans as "a nominal minority whose claim to be a 'person of color' deserving of the special regard reserved for victims is taken seriously b
Mar 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Many people have already pointed out my main issues with the book: that it has no structural through-line, and is disturbingly patriarchal. Some of the pieces, like the profile of Francis Fukuyama, barely made an impression on me. They were too short and not that surprising — why even include them in a hard-copy collection? The last couple of essays, written in 2017 about political correctness, could have been written by any number of “what-is-the-world-coming-to-something-something-SJW” types. ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved these essays. Every sentence contained such feverish clarity, such animated poise, and the ideas emerging from the elegance beautifully subverted the prevailing rhetoric. Where a lesser writer would've used the dogma of our current online political polarities to accrete popularity (this is Yang's first book), Yang chose instead to honor authenticity over pandering. This book excited me immensely. It's the best book I've read this year.
Ryan Mishap
Feb 09, 2019 rated it liked it
If the title is a reference to DuBois, it better not include articles written about hackers and political authors from New York Magazine and what not. While the essays dealing with what the title would lead you to believe this was going to be grappling with were good, I was disappointed by the collection.
Dan Burt
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, essays, audio
4.5 stars
Mar 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting collection of essays largely about the Asian-American male experience. Nothing in the collection beats the first essay though.
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A collection of essays ranging from race, masculinity and some pop culture. Very interesting and relevant, we need more diverse voices like him.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m not aware of another collection of essays that is written from the point of view of an Asian male in America. But I wish more of the essays had been about the Asian-American experience, like the excellent first and last essays. Read this book for these two pieces. The title of the collection, a nod to Du Bois’s “Souls of Black Folk,” is a bit misleading here.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is a collection of Wesley Yang's previously published work, which wouldn't have been a bad thing, but the content really underdelivered on the promise of the title and introduction. I had expected essays on race and specifically on the Asian American experience, or even something vaguely reminiscent of DuBois and I got none of that.

Part I did profile some Asian American figures, including Seung-Hui Cho, Amy Chua, and Eddie Huang. Parts II and III were a bunch of profiles on whit
May 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
I guess this book tries. The title promises a rare collection of essays talking about the Asian American condition that made it into the mainstream of NYTimes's notable books of 2018, but it disappoints. It only spends about a third of the book on topics related to this before turning into an incoherent mess of hastily cobbled together published writing. Not to say that an Asian American author should only write on the topic, but 1. the title promises something pretty damn specific and 2. there' ...more
Ben Panico
Sep 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Received an ARC. Yang is a great writer with some really insightful comments on what it's like to be an Asian man in America. He definitely discusses a lot of issues that I've not read elsewhere, and for that, I appreciate the opportunity to read this book.

That said, I was a little confused by some of the pieces included. There isn't a lot of flow from section to section, and I had trouble getting through the middle bits that seemed to have little to do with "the souls of yellow folk
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It seemed as though Yang (or his publisher) picked out a cool title for a book of essays, then realized that he didn't have enough of them about the Asian-American experience to fill it, and, thus, rounded it out with random (on Aaron Schwartz, Tony Judt)--not to mention outdated (The Game and the pickup artists? Sex Diaries? Really?)--other essays Yang wrote at some point in the past 5-10 years that may or may not use the word "Asian" in them. The first few essays were engaging, but, overall, I ...more
Tory Cross
Apr 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bad, owned

Absolutely FULL of incel bullshit so palpable I am extremely nauseous.

CW mass shooting, misogyny

Fucking imagine pretending the women murdered at Virginia Tech should've been kinder to the shooter before he became a shooter. He was not entitled to anything from a single fucking woman. And the way that the author wrote about the women is horrifying honestly and is so, so misogynistic.
Sharad Pandian
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture-critique
This would have been a great book if the author had simply lost the last two chapters.

As he states in the introduction, the premise of his approach can be though to be an interesting tension in the Asian-American experience, that is shown through most of the book to be a fruitful one:

In an age characterized by the politics of resentment, the Asian man knows something of the resentment of the embattled white man, besieged on all sides by grievances and demands for reparation,/>
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Wesley Yang has published criticism, essays, and nonfiction features in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, the New York Times Book Review, New York Magazine, Esquire, Tablet, and n+1. His work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Magazine Writing, Best Creative Nonfiction, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in Montreal.
“My interest has always been in the place where sex and race are both obscenely conspicuous and yet consciously suppressed, largely because of the liminal place that the Asian man occupies in the midst of it: an “honorary white” person who will always be denied the full perquisites of whiteness; an entitled man who will never quite be regarded or treated as a man; a nominal minority whose claim to be a “person of color” deserving of the special regard reserved for victims is taken seriously by no one. In an age characterised by the politics of resentment, the Asian man knows something of the resentment of the embattled white man besieged on all sides by grievances and demands for reparation, and something of the resentments of the rising social justice warrior, who feels with every fibre of their being that all that stands in the way of the attainment of their thwarted ambitions is nothing so much as a white man. Tasting of the frustrations of both, he is denied the entitlements of either.” 2 likes
“[…] as the bearer of an Asian face in America, you paid some incremental penalty, never absolute, but always omnipresent, that meant that you were by default unlovable and unloved; that you were presumptively a nobody, a mute and servile figure, distinguishable above all by your total incapacity to threaten anyone; that you were many laudable things that the world might respect and reward, but that you were fundamentally powerless to affect anyone in a way that would make you either loved or feared.

What was the epistemological status of such an extravagant assertion? Could it possibly be true? Could it survive empirical scrutiny? It was a dogmatic statement at once unprovable and unfalsifiable. It was a paranoid statement about the way others regarded you that couldn’t possibly be true in any literal sense. It had no real truth value, except that under certain conditions, one felt it with every fibre of one’s being to be true.”
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