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The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel Hardcover – March 31, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (March 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393065286
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065282
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
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Review

A historical novel on a grand scale...reads like a fable, a dark love story, a triumphant tale of survival. -- Maureen Howard, author of The Silver Screen

A luminous rendering of a woman whose work was her life. -- Booklist

A phenomenal debut. -- Joanna Hershon, author of The German Bride

A sparkling debut....Lush! -- Vogue

Epstein's harrowing—and historically accurate—details show that through darkness comes greatness. -- Marie Claire

Epstein's take on Yuliang's life is captivating to the last line. -- Publishers Weekly starred review

Luminous.... An irresistable story. --New York Times Book Review, Sarah Towers

Plush and vibrant...The Painter from Shanghai combines the sweep of an epic with the persuasive, textured detail of daily life. -- Michelle Wildgen, author of You're Not You

Yuliang's story is as captivating as it is chilling, vividly told, hard to put down. -- Helen Schulman, author of A Day at the Beach

Yuliang's story is by turns harrowing, passionate, and inspiring. A moving story, and a real page-turner too. -- Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of An Almost Perfect Moment

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Customer Reviews

You can get a feel for what her life was like, and you can understand her as a person.
Stephanie Manley
She lingers still, thanks to Epstein's lyrical, keenly observed writing, from the smallest detail to the overall epic story arc.
Sarah Saffian
The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein is the story of famed Chinese artist Pan Yuliang.
Christina Lockstein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Cody Epstein steps into the pantheon of fine contemporary writers with her first book THE PAINTER FROM SHANGHAI, a work of 'historical fiction' so polished in research, so rich in detail not only of the turbulent period in China during the first half of the 20th century, but also in the mysterious social customs of that country, and a source of insight into the changes in the manner in which the visual world was captured by artists as East and West met and married in the art capital of the world - Paris. Yet overriding all of this fascinating information is Epstein's gift for delivering a story of passion and love with a poetic prose style that comes together in this novel in a manner not unlike creating the painting technique that this novel's heroine describes her world. It is a grand feat and a work worth repeated readings.

Westerners may not be familiar with the name Pan Yuliang, one of the more important Chinese artists who influenced the Post-Impressionist art movement, but in Epstein's eloquent novel we grow to know this gifted artist from her birth as Xiuqing in 1895, and her early years as an orphan protected by her opium-addicted uncle who sold her into a brothel at age fourteen.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cheryl Koch VINE VOICE on August 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Pan Yuliang has lived and taken care of her uncle, ever since her mother died when she was young. At fourteen years Pan Yuliang was sold to The Hall of Eternal Splendour to become a prostitute. Her uncle did it to play off some loans he had accrued for his habit of opium. After two years of working at The Halls of Eternal Splendour, Pan Yuliang was saved. A young man by the name of Pan Zanhua, who is an inspector. He is so fascinated by Pan that he offers to take her away from Eternal Splendour and make her his wife. For once Pan Yuliang sees Shanghai through a different light. Pan Zanhua recognizes Pan Yuliang interest and talent for painting. He encourages her to become a professional painter but is Pan Yuliang to free spirited for the school and will they even accept a woman.

The Painter from Shanghai is based on true events of Pan Yuliang life. I have to admit that I had never heard of Pan Yuliang. After reading The Painter from Shanghai, I found Pan Yuliang to be a very remarkable woman. She could find beauty in everything around her. This included even during the two years Yuliang was at The Halls of Eternal Splendour. Pan Zanhua was a good husband to Yuliang. He helped Pan Yuliang pursue her dreams no matter what people thought. For this fact Pan Yuliang was able to stand up for what she wanted to paint and not just what sold. I feel Jennifer Cody Epstein did Pan Yuliang justice in this creative masterpiece of a book titled The Painter from Shanghai.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Saffian on May 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Upon finishing Jennifer Epstein's luminous tale of a courageous, passionate woman's personal and artistic triumph over circumstance, I wept, so much had Yuliang inspired and moved me. She lingers still, thanks to Epstein's lyrical, keenly observed writing, from the smallest detail to the overall epic story arc. Brava.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Krystin on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up during my recent infatuation with early 20th century China, expecting something exciting and probably over-the-top romantic (especially with a sticker on the cover boasting "If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, you'll love this!"). The reality, however, leaves something to be desired.

Perhaps the most disconcerting part of the book is that it is written entirely in the present tense. I'm sure the author was aiming to give the reader a sort of first-hand impression of the events, but it's actually quite difficult to read. More than that, it is used incorrectly; rather than building suspense, it ends up killing it, and the resulting story is flat and lifeless.

The author chooses to either spell out letter-by-letter every event so that the reader doesn't ever have to think, or to skip the event entirely. The latter was an interesting plot device the first two or so times it happened, leaving the reader with a sense of anticipation about the eventual return to and conclusion of these events. It becomes apparent early on, however, that even when there are conclusions, they usually occur as an afterthought and so briefly one might wonder why they were mentioned at all. Even some of the book's most "important" characters are swept under the rug, out of sight, out of mind. When the reader comes to realize that almost EVERY major plot point is going to be built up and then skipped (to be mentioned again, possibly, in a brief flashback), it becomes tiresome. The story is gutted of any emotional bonds between characters because they might vanish at any time, never to be mentioned again. The reader ends up caring as little about the secondary characters as the emotionally vacant main character does.
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