Bergers Book Reviews

The Painter From Shanghai

Author: Jennifer Cody Epstein
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Genre: Biographical Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-393-06528-2
Pages: 416
Price: $24.95

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Pan Yuliang, one of China’s finest and most controversial painters, lived in the early part of the 20th century. Forced into prostitution when her uncle sold her to pay for his opium habit, she is later unexpectedly rescued by a man who comes to love her and make her his second wife. Though she is only a concubine, he treats her with love and respect, and encourages her to study painting, both in China and in France.

“…no matter how we long for the past, we are rooted in the present,” Pan Yuliang tells her husband, Pan Zanhua. Jennifer Cody Epstein brings this concept home to us in her use of present tense in telling Yuliang’s story. Based on the limited knowledge of the painter’s life, she has captured this turbulent time period in China, and some of the experiences she imagined Yuliang may have had.

The Painter From Shanghai pulls the reader into Yuliang’s life, sharing the horrors of Hall life, the joy in discovering her ability to paint, and the hunger and loneliness of her life in France. Though most of the public never understood her need to paint nudes, Epstein suggests her monsters were what produced her art. In creating beautiful female bodies on canvas, she may have been able to deal with the memories of offering her body in a way no fourteen year-old girl should.

Haunting, compelling, and masterfully written, The Painter From Shanghai invites the reader into Pan Yuliang’s world. Although this a work of fiction, you’ll feel you’ve had a glimpse into the life of this intriguing and talented woman.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

August 11, 2008 - Posted by | literary

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