Jun 9, 2008

The Painter from Shanghai

by Jennifer Cody Epstein

I was thrilled when this book arrived in the mail for me from the author: it felt so exquisite in my hands with the sleek, glossy cover and smooth creamy pages. The cover is just beautiful. And the story really intrigued me. The Painter from Shanghai is a novel based on the life of Pan Yuliang, a post-impressionist painter from China who spent her early years in a brothel, having been sold into prostitution at the age of fourteen by her opium-addicted uncle. Half of the book describes her life of oppression there. Eventually she attracted the attention of a government official, who took her out of the brothel to become his concubine and later made her his second wife. He encouraged her to study and grow as a person. And that is what I felt this novel was really about: a woman's struggle to find herself against all odds. Yuliang was one of very few female students at the Shanghai Art Academy. She excelled there, went on to study art in France and Rome, then returned to her native country when it was struggling towards revolution. Her depiction of female nudes (many of them self-portraits) was not well-met in China, and a disastrous public reaction to one of her gallery openings nearly convinced her to cease painting. I am awed at the strength of this woman, who found her realization as an artist in a very controversial fashion, during troubled times. I really enjoyed reading about her time spent in the studio, discussing art with professors and fellow students, learning the methods of painting. It is very inspiring. You can view some of Yuliang's paintings at the author's website.

Rating: 3/5                    416 pages, 2008

More reviews at:
Booking Mama
A Work in Progress
Diary of an Eccentric

7 comments:

devourerofbooks said...

So what made you decide only 3/5?

Dana said...

Sounds interesting

Jeane said...

Devourer- good question. In my ratings, 3/5 means it was a good book, but there was something I just didn't like. In this case, I never felt like I could get under the skin the protagonist, but was just reading about her. Also, in spite of all the details, I didn't really get a sense of place, and got lost with the political and historical details of China. I also didn't like how in the second half, the story began to jump around chronologically, instead of following a straight linear line. But I didn't feel fair to say all these things in the review, seeing how well-researched the book was, and that it was gifted me from the author.

Wow, that must be the longest comment I've ever written! I think I'm actually not going to accept review copies from authors or publishers anymore; I always feel uneasy writing my frank honest opinions, and of the three I've done so far, I didn't really like any of them enough to keep.

Literary Feline said...

I just got this one in the mail today--nice surprise. You're right, the cover is beautiful. It'll be interesting to see what my take is on it.

In response to your comment, I do understand what you mean about it being difficult sometimes to voice your criticism of a book when you know an author is reading your review. And sometimes, frankly, I just can't think of how to articulate what I didn't like about a book. If that's the case--or if I can't pinpoint exactly what I didn't care for, I usually won't say anything about that niggling feeling. I've always been better at doling out the compliments over criticizing--and that goes for many aspects of my life. I think it carries over into my reviewing. I need to always remember I am not reviewing for the author, but for myself and for anyone who might come across my review looking for an honest opinion.

Amy said...

I've been wanting to read this book, actually, I generally really enjoy the Asia backdrop and setting.

Trish said...

Jeane - your comment in some ways is more telling than the review. I read your review thinking it sounded like an intriguing book, but the things that you wrote about in your comments above are all things that will affect my appreciation of a book. I agree with Lit Feline that it is helpful to us as the reader to know the good and the bad. Although, I know it is much easier said than done. I am going to be reviewing my first ARC in the next few weeks--one that I'm not really enjoying all that much--and I know it will be difficult to be frank. *Sigh*

Lauren said...

Wow this sounds great! I'm going to add it to my wish list :)