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
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.