March 11, 2010

The Painter From Shanghai - Jennifer Cody Epstein


The Painter From Shanghai is a book that was chosen by a new book club/group I have been invited to join by one of my best friends and her sister-in-law. It's been a while since I have been a part of a book club and I am looking forward to having an arena to discuss literature face-to-face again but I think my favourite part of belonging to a book club (just as in being a part of the book blogging community) is discovering books that otherwise might have completely passed me by.

The Painter From Shanghai is one such book. I had definitely heard of it and seen it's gorgeous cover before but nothing really jumped out to say "read me". The book is a fictional biography of the Chinese painter Pan Yuliang who came to prominence with her daring and creative work (especially her nude portraits of women) in the early twentieth century. The author's website displays some of Pan Yuliang's work and also goes into the story about how she came to write about the artist which I found set the tone for my reading of the book beautifully. The book covers Pan Yuliang's early life and childhood and the turning point in her young life when she is sold to a brothel by her uncle. The early parts of the book are painful to read but they also clearly demonstrate Yuliang's strong spirit and even the early development of her artistic talent.

The relationships Yuliang becomes connected in and with during her life are fleshed out - particularly her relationships with men - both the ones she is forced into and the ones that she chooses. The economic and political times of both China and the western world are inter weaved into the book with ease and the author always makes you feel informed without going into too much detail that would detract from the main focus of the book.

I loved the narrative flow of the book and the way that Yuliang's own voice is developed and strengthened throughout the novel in conjunction with her painting skills. A beautiful book that has made me want to seek out more of this artist's work.

7 comments:

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

This sounds lovely. I actually came across it yesterday on a library booklist I was reviewing - what a strange coincidence!

claire said...

Nice to hear good things about it from you. Which reminds me I have this on the tbr for review from last year and completely forgot! Bad me!

Marg said...

I've borrowed this a couple of times but wasn't actually able to read it. I must remember to rereqest it.

Karen said...

Hi Claire - I hope you decide to give it a try - would like to know what you think.

Hi Claire - If your TBR list is anything like mine I can completely understand how books slip through the system!!

Hi Marg - I hope you enjoy it when you get to re-borrow it. My library didn't actually have a copy so I ordered mine from The Book Depository.

Danielle said...

I read this last year and really enjoyed it as well. She was a fascinating woman but such a hard life! I had to go and look for pictures of her paintings after I finished.

Karen said...

Hi Danielle - I was exactly the same - I was fascinated with her art work and felt I connected much more with them for knowing about her life.

mel u said...

very well done review-this book might be read as companion to Shanghai Girls by Lisa See