An interview with Rowan Hisayo Buchanan on writing ‘Harmless Like You’


The harm we cause one another – casually, accidentally, deliberately, unknowingly – haunts Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s mind. Her debut novel, Harmless Like You, which sparked a fierce bidding war among publishers, takes its title from a photography series that Yuki, one of Buchanan’s main characters, puts together in the early 1970s. The series is made up of pictures taken on the sly of girls around New York City: brown, black, Asian girls, and one of a white American darling, complete with ringlets, rosy cheeks and a copy of the 11 June 1972 edition of the New York Times, with the now-famous Napalm Girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, on the front cover.

The title of Yuki’s series, in turn, comes from something her lover Lou says to her: “I think the real cowards are the ones over there killing harmless little girls like you.” It is a painful comparison; not only is Yuki Japanese, not Vietnamese, but he is grossly underestimating her.

Read Ilana Masad’s ‘the first book interview’ in The Guardian here