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The Painter from Shanghai

The Painter from Shanghai

4.0 45
by Jennifer Cody Epstein

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“A historical novel on a grand scale . . . a dark love story, a triumphant tale of survival.” —Maureen Howard
Down the muddy waters of the Yangtze River, through the raucous glamour of prewar Shanghai and the bohemian splendor of 1920s Paris, and back to a China teetering on the brink of revolution: this is the epic story of Pan Yuliang, one


“A historical novel on a grand scale . . . a dark love story, a triumphant tale of survival.” —Maureen Howard
Down the muddy waters of the Yangtze River, through the raucous glamour of prewar Shanghai and the bohemian splendor of 1920s Paris, and back to a China teetering on the brink of revolution: this is the epic story of Pan Yuliang, one of the most talented—and provocative—Chinese artists of the twentieth century.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
“Luminous . . . irresistible.”
“A sparkling debut . . . lush!”
Chicago Tribune
“Engrossing. . . . Epstein’s spotless pace, vivid characterization and often-breathtaking descriptions elevate the novel above any initial similarities with Memoirs of a Geisha to become its own distinctive canvas.”
Marie Claire
“Epstein’s harrowing—and historically accurate—details show that through darkness comes greatness.”
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Pan Yuliang was a girl with no dreams. Her parents were taken from her at a young age, then her uncle sold her into prostitution; it was enough for many years just to cope and survive. One day, fate places a kind gentleman in her path, and she begins to discover the city outside the brothel and the world beyond China's borders. As a larger canvas of life emerges, Pan realizes that she has something of value to say -- and a talent through which she can express herself. From Shanghai to Paris, Pan is challenged by the harsh realities in politics, art, and love, and must rely on her own strength to develop her talent. In so doing, she takes a relatively ordinary life and makes it extraordinary.

A work of fiction -- but based on the life and work of a real artist -- The Painter from Shanghai transports readers to early-20th-century China, a culture marked by oppression. Epstein has proven herself a shining talent in this first novel, tackling such weighty questions as: How does a talented artist blossom, even under repressive conditions? What is art, and what is love? What makes a life well lived? The answers form a mesmerizing portrait of one young woman's journey to find herself and to nourish her creative talents despite appreciable odds. (Summer 2008 Selection)
Sarah Towers
In this age of memoir and thinly veiled autobiographical fiction, writers who take high dives into deeply imagined waters have become increasingly rare—and valuable. What a pleasure, then, to discover that Jennifer Cody Epstein, whose luminous first novel, The Painter from Shanghai, is based on the actual life of Pan Yuliang, a former child prostitute turned celebrated painter, also happens to be one such writer…In an epigraph, Epstein quotes the English painter John Sloane, who wrote that "though a living cannot be made at art, art makes life worth living. It makes starving, living." In the end, this is precisely what Epstein illustrates in her moving characterization of Pan Yuliang…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Epstein's sweeping debut novel, set in early 20th-century China, fictionalizes the life of Chinese painter Pan Yuliang. Born Xiuquing, she is orphaned at a young age and later sold into prostitution by her uncle, who needs the money to support his opium habit. Renamed Yuliang, she becomes the brothel's top girl and soon snags the attention of customs inspector Pan Zanhua, who makes her his concubine. Zanhua sets her up in Shanghai, where she enrolls in the Shanghai Art Academy and early on struggles with life study, unable to separate the nude's monetary value from its value in the "currency of beauty." She eventually succeeds, winning a scholarship to study in Europe. But when she returns to China, itself inching toward revolution, the conservative establishment is critical of Yuliang, balking as she adopts Western-style dress and becomes known for her nudes (one newspaper deems her work pornography). Simmering resentments hit a flashpoint at a disastrous Shanghai retrospective exhibit, and the fallout nearly destroys Yuliang's artistic ambition. Convincing historic detail is woven throughout and nicely captures the plight of women in the era. Epstein's take on Yuliang's life is captivating to the last line. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Journalist Epstein's first novel showcases two turbulent decades in Chinese history (1913-37) as experienced by prostitute-turned-painter Pan Yuliang. This fictionalized account of real-life artist Madame Pan reveals the woman who created some of China's most provocative post-impressionist paintings. Sold into slavery by her opium-addicted uncle, Yuliang survives life in a brothel, rises from maid to top girl, and eventually achieves quasirespectability by becoming a concubine (second wife) to an honorable civil servant, Pan Zanhua. He teaches her to read and write and helps her gain admission to the Shanghai Arts Academy. Throughout her career, Yuliang is criticized for painting nude self-portraits that reflect a Western sensibility. Her modern artistic and political convictions take a toll on her husband's career, and he allows her to follow her own destiny and supports her when she leaves China to study first in Paris and later in Rome. When Yuliang returns to China, she finds her country torn by political factions. Fans of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha and Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will enjoy this engrossing story of a woman forced to choose between following her heart and pursuing her art. Recommended for public libraries.-Loralyn Whitney, Edinboro Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib.

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fictional portrait of Pan Yuliang, a real-life 20th-century Chinese prostitute turned successful artist. In the mold of Memoirs of a Geisha, Epstein's debut devotes itself to the exotic life of a woman whose early years were spent in the service of men. Orphaned Yuliang is 14 in 1913 when her opium-addicted uncle sells her into a brothel. Beatings are routine, and escapees are caught and murdered. Having learned to please clients, Yuliang rises to "top girl" and has the good fortune to meet a modern-thinking customs inspector, Pan Zanhua, who buys her freedom, "marries" her (he already has a wife and child) and moves her to Shanghai. There she develops an interest in drawing and becomes one of very few women admitted to the Art Academy. Epstein touches on the shifting political background as Yuliang travels to France and Rome and develops her controversial work, which sometimes uses her own naked body as subject matter. Later she returns to Shanghai and Nanjing where, in 1936, an exhibition of her "Western-style" art is vandalized. In 1937 she abandons Zanhua and leaves once more for France, as war with Japan looms. She dies in 1977, only "modestly successful in the commercial sense," but with awards to her name and a body of some 4,000 works of art. The enlivening spark flickers only intermittently in this professional account of an unusual life.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of the international best-selling novel The Painter from Shanghai. She lived for five years in Japan, first as a student and then as a journalist. She now lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.

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The Painter from Shanghai 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books of all time. This emotional story of a heroic woman is enlightening and heart-wrenching. I'm 21 years old and I found this book fascinating. I couldn't put it down.
jj39 More than 1 year ago
What is resonant about this book is the child sold into slavery/prostitution having a natural artistic gift that becomes her life's work. She is resented by both her former workmates in prostitution and hated by her classmates in art classes. As a Chinese female, her destiny was determined by her uncle who needed money for opium, thus she became a slave to the desires of misogynistic males. In the end, she becomes a famous artist but never quite overcomes the curse of being inferior to the male artists. But, on the other hand, most women artists don't thanks to cultural influences. Talent means nothing but trouble for them.
jaime More than 1 year ago
Reading The Painter from Shanghai is time well spent. Pan Yulaing overcomes a life of hardships that no one should have to face and reaches her destiny on her own terms. This woman is a lesson to us all. So the story is worthwhile just even on that level. Ms. Epstein's prose is beautiful, almost lyrical. I started this on a cold, iserable Monday and finished Tuesday. I just felt compelled to keep reading. So if you want to read a good book, and I don't mean beach reading or trans-continental jet reading, but a good story excellently written, try The Painter from Shanghai.
Chelsea_Hannah_Boo More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was amazing. I love to read about strong women throughout history. The book is about Pan Yuliang, who at a young age was sold to a whore house. She struggles and fights to get what she wants in life. And that is to be a painter. She was an amazing woman, and artist.
Skyeblue4 More than 1 year ago
Pan Yuliang's mind slips back into her past, back into the memories seared into her mind, and she feels the pain of loss. She left Zanhua, she left Shanghai and she left her heart. She drifts back to her days as Xiuqing, a fourteen year old living with her beloved uncle. He believed that modern girls should know the classics and he spent many a pleasant hour teaching her about poetry and politics, encouraging her to use her mind to think for herself. Then he betrayed her in the worst possible way. He sold her to the House of Eternal Splendor, so that he could continue the devastating addiction that was slowly ruining their lives. There, Yuliang learned to use her body for profit and numb her mind to the horrors faced by such a young, innocent girl. But there, she met Zanhau. Her intelligence, knowledge and beauty set her apart, yet she wasn't perfect. Her unbound feet, most unconventional in China at that time, set her apart from the other flowers, but Zanhau paid no mind. He saved her, though that one act nearly destroyed him, and he loved her beyond Yuliang's understanding. From there, her life changed, and even as a concubine, her talent in art began to bloom. In truth, did her uncle really betray her? All facets of Pan Yuliang's adult life and career were affected by the politics of the time. Author, Jennifer Cody Epstein's in-depth research is obvious in her thorough documentation of the changing political situation that indeed influenced the populace towards women artists and the western art culture. From acceptance to resistance, Pan Yuliang continued to paint what she felt was true. Detailed descriptions of the art world, its masters, techniques, and materials prove many hours of research. While there exists little information about the life of this intriguing artist, the incredible imagination and storytelling skills of Jennifer Cody Epstein, leave us with a fascinating novel that is definitely worth reading again and again. I look forward to more from this author. Highly Recommended Reviewer: Elaine Fuhr, Allbooks Reviews
SBeyer More than 1 year ago
A good book it took a chapter or two to get into the characters but, in the end you're not disappointed. . At a young age she was hurled into a world of prostitution. In the end she makes a name for herself
Mother-Daughter-Book-Club More than 1 year ago
The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Pan Yuliang, a chinese artist born in 1899.

Sold into a brothel by her opium-addicted uncle when she's 14, Yuliang learns to cope with the help of her friend and top girl at the house, Jinling. Then Jinling's violent death emphasizes that life in a brothel is always tenuous and under someone else's control. When a local official, Pan Zanhua, becomes attracted to her for her mind and not her body, he buys her freedom from the house and makes her his second wife, or concubine. But the match is clearly one of love, and Zanhua wants Yuliang to develop her mind by learning to read. Soon Yuliang discovers another passion: painting. Defying convention of the times, she is admitted to the local art school, which has created scandal by bringing in nude models to paint. Yuliang wins a scholarship that takes her first to France, then to Rome to study western painting, and she returns home with new ideas about art that don't sit well with many in Chinese society at the time.

Epstein tells Yuliang's tale in this epic of a book about a woman who learns to gain control over her own fate. The Painter of Shanghai is filled with rich details of China from the early days of the 20th century into the very beginnings of the rise of communism, revealing the country's ambivalence between moving into a modern world or cleaving to the old ways. Yuliang is a strong woman who never compromises what she believes to be right, even at great cost to herself and her husband. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in 11th grade and up. Readers should be aware of detailed scenes of life in a brothel and other sexual encounters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Xiuqing grew up believing that she was destined to become an artist, the next great female poet or perhaps a talented painter. When her mother died, little Xiu was taken in by her uncle. While he fanned her dreams, his own opium addiction would take the young girl on a very different path. Thus, at fourteen, Xiuqing became Yuliang, one of the girls working at The Hall of Eternal Splendor. For several years, Yuliang¿s existence was dictated by the whims of the Godmother who ran The Hall and the men who frequently the establishment. However, after the murder of her best friend, Yuliang¿s life suddenly changed. She met a man who appreciated and encouraged her natural curiosity and love of learning so that Pan Yuliang¿s true talents could eventually surface. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, you¿ll love The Painter of Shanghai. Both stories share the stories of young girls thrown into a world beyond their comprehension who rise above their circumstances. However, I have to admit that I actually preferred The Painter of Shanghai. In life, Pan Yuliang was a courageous woman who followed her truth no matter what the consequences. Her strength and perseverance is an inspiration to us all.
LostInMyBook More than 1 year ago
This was a great book I enjoyed it very much. The story was great and I liked the authors writing style.
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The storyline was good but the characters were undeveloped, scenery and setting minimal and there were major jumps in time that left me feeling that I had missed a chapter. The research is apparent and there were parts that were great but just so-so overall. Im bummed that I paid16$ for this.
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