The Painter from Shanghai is a richly layered fictional account of the life of Pan Yuliang, a female post impressionistic painter from China (1895-1977). She lived a courageous life and was forced to become an adult way too soon. She was orphaned and sold to a brothel at the age of 14 by her uncle who was an opium addict. Thankfully, a customs official, Pan Zanhua was able to buy her out of the brothel and make her his second wife. She was drawn to political, cultural and artistic endeavors and learned to read, write and to paint.
Pan Yuliang's character is drawn beautifully by the author, who carefully details her growth as an artist, woman and wife. Pan Yuliang faces the system wherein woman have no rights and are not respected. She struggles to gain acknowledgment for her work in a political climate and society that does not respect her art. Her passion takes her to many countries to study art and she must make choices that are painful as well to protect her husband and her art.
I had no knowledge of chinese art or of female painters during this time before I started reading this book. This made the novel that much more interesting to me as I wanted to know about this historical time period and this amazing artist Pan Yuliang. Ms. Epstein paints this story with such passion and vivid descriptions that it was engrossing to read. I didn't want the book to end and had trouble putting it down. The brothel scenes were tough to read at times but the author was able to depict beauty and strength as well through these experiences. You learn about the political turmoil of this time and the reasons for Pan Yuliang's many decisions and sacrifices she makes along the way to protect her husband and her art.
After reading The Painter from Shanghai , I wanted to know more about Pan Yulian and I was able to find examples of her paintings at Jennifer Cody Epsteins Website, here. She is well know for her nudes and you can see examples of those. It is easy to understand that this would be controversial as they were painted in the 1920's and 1930's.
To the left, is a beautiful self portrait Pan Yuliang painted. On the right, is one of my favorites, a vase of flowers. I would love to have a print of this gorgeous painting with the bold colors, the richness and details.
Ms. Epstein has created a wonderful, superbly written historical fiction novel. I thoroughly enjoyed The Painter from Shanghai and highly recommend it to all especially those who enjoy reading historical fiction. This would be a wonderful book to discuss with a book club. There is a Reading Group Guide with discussion questions as well as an interview with the author at the end of the paperback edition of the book. I am truly honored to be part of this TLC Blog Tour hosting Jennifer Cody Epstein’s on The Painter from Shanghai blog tour organized by TLC Book Tours.
Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Painter from Shanghai, an imaginative retelling of the life of Chinese prostitute-turned-post-Impressionist Pan Yuliang. Her fiction has also appeared in Thema, Confrontation, Carve, and Small Spiral Notebook and has been a finalist selection for Glimmertrain. She has also lived and worked in the U.S., Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Italy for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Mademoiselle, Self and Parents, as well as for the NBC and HBO networks. She has a Masters in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University and an MFA in fiction from Columbia University, where she is an adjunct professor in the School of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters. You can read more about Jennifer on her website.