... stylish and frequently revelatory ... As a writer Yang is often described as a master of empathy, and this new collection bears plentiful witness to his talent for imaginatively identifying with his subjects. Nothing is more characteristic of his essays, however, than this gesture of turning away, or refusal, in the name of his defiant inner self or 'soul' ... Yang is not a political philosopher, and it is possible to interpret his (so far) fragmentary brief for such categories as a matter more of literary sensibility than political sense ... if Yang’s tenacious individuality marks some of his meditations as untimely, it is also what invests them with a unique necessity. Especially when there are persuasive reasons to get with a program, we need critics who are willing to keep speaking in a voice of their obdurate own.
My disappointment with Wesley Yang’s collection of essays, The Souls of Yellow Folk, stems from the difference between what it is and what it could have been: a necessary, uncomfortable, possibly even great book ... Whether the book’s title is false advertising or self-sabotage, the result is frustrating to read ... This Asian-American legacy in politics and art is invisible to Yang, who does not even mention Frank Chin, the writer who most forcefully dealt with the agonies of Asian-American manhood ... [Yang] fails either to consider what sort of defiant political struggle would force recognition or what an individual solution might look like. Yang thus leaves the reader stranded with him in his ambivalence about what it means, if anything, to be 'yellow.' His book, which calls out and to yellow folks but is only partially concerned with us, is as lukewarm as the racial grievance he senses and feels.
On the face of it—a loaded phrase in this context—what I most enjoy is Yang’s lovely python style of writing and thinking. He seems to have imbibed everything related to his topics at the cost of great effort. But his prose unfurls in a mode of languorous deliberation ... Another overlap between Yang and [Norman] Mailer is that they are both excellent reporters who nevertheless find the most compelling evidence for their ideas in the mirror ... Though Yang pumps the iron of reporting, his pieces have a bit of dream state about them. I find the self-conflicted elegance of his prose to be a delight. We have heard so much about the incursions of the essay into fiction, but here we have the opposite, reported essays that often levitate into that fiction feeling on the strength of the author’s voice and their sharply observed character studies.