Today it is my pleasure to serve as Jennifer Cody Epstein’s hostess on her The Painter from Shanghai blog tour organized by TLC Book Tours. Mine is the first of many stops this month. Please see information on her entire tour and the giveaway at the end of this post. For more information on TLC Book Tours, their authors and all of their tour dates, please click here.
Pan Yuliang wasn’t always an artist. Before she became famous, she was known as Xiuquing, a child who was orphaned at an early age. She went to with her uncle, who was an opium addict. At the age of 14, her uncle sold her into prostitution. Her uncle did give her one thing, the love of poetry and this is whateventually attracks Pan Zanhua, a customs inspector. He makes Yuliang his second wife and sets up a home for her in Shanghai. It is here were she is free to learn to read and write and, eventually, cultivate her love of painting. Her husband, whose views on life and society do not prevent him from falling in love with and taking a whore as his concubine when they first met, constricted over time, fueled by his insecurity over losing her. Still, her studies take her to Paris where the buring wick of a Chinese revolution is never far away.
Pan Yuliang is a historical figure and Jennifer Cody Epstein brought her to life for me in the way she imagined and wrote Yuliang’s life. Her story brought me back to The Blue Notebook, reminding me of how lucky Yuliang was to have been bought out of slavery by a man list Pan Zanhua. He loved her for who she was and encouraged her to learn to read and write. He even prompted her to reverse the damage done to her feet by the binding that was never completed when she was a child. The scene where Zanhua rubbed circulation into her feet was touching and beautiful. Despite his love and kindness, Yuliang is not able to give herself over to him completely. Her experiences as a prostitue in the Hall scared her in ways that she cannot express in words. It all came out of her through her art.
Yuliang and Zanhua’s relationship was equal in Zanhua’s estimation, but as she pushed to expand her education beyond the politcal writings and other reading and writing lessons he provided her, it became evident to Yuliang that she was still in a cage of sorts. When forced to choose, she could not afford to take a decision that was not in her own self-interest. Zanhua may have viewed her as selfish and ungrateful, but living so near the art that she loved and being kept form it was would have been worse than never having it in the first place. The fight between them resulting from her nude self-portrait brought this out very clearly. Had Zanhua’s opinions become more conservative over the course of his relationship, or had Yuliang’s perception of the freedom offered to her by his love shrink exponentially when she fully came up against the boundaries he set up? As fascinating as I found Yuliang’s life, the study of their relationship was the element that really kept me engaged in The Painter from Shanghai.
I knew nothing of Chinese art or Pan Yuliang when I picked up this novel and started reading The Painter from Shanghai, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed this novel any more if I had. Jennifer Cody Epstein writes about Yuliang with passion and fluidity. She made Yuliang and her world come alive. Her novel picked me up out of a reading funk. I was half way through it before I gave it a second thought. I enjoyed the way that Epstein made art of a part of Yuliang, a way for her to understand and come to terms with her world. She made sense out of Yuliang’s choices and painted the complicated portrait of a woman who learned to live life by her own rules at a time and in a place where doing so was more shameful than prostitution. The Painter from Shanghai is the best Historical Fiction I’ve read this year.
In addition to introducing me to a wonderfully engaging woman, Jennifer Cody Epstein opened my eyes to Pan Yuliang’s beautiful art. Her nudes, which created so much controversy, are lovely, but her still lifes are just as gorgeous. The following, in addition to those I used within my review, are some of my favorites. I would love to find some prints for my home.
There are even more on Epstein’s website.
Jennifer Cody Epstein’s TLC Blog Tour is just beginning, here is the rest of her schedule this month. I’m so curious to see what everyone else thought.
Wednesday, June 3rd: Book-a-Rama
Thursday, June 4th: Book Nut
Monday, June 8th: She is Too Fond of Books
Tuesday, June 9th: S. Krishna’s Books
Wednesday, June 10th: Becky’s Book Reviews
Thursday, June 11th: Redlady’s Reading Room
Monday, June 15th: Dolce Bellezza
Tuesday, June 16th: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, June 17th: A Work in Progress
Thursday, June 18th: Beth Fish Reads
Monday, June 22nd: Pop Culture Junkie
Tuesday, June 23rd: Do They Have Salsa in China?
Wednesday, June 24th: Bookworm with a View
Thursday, June 25th: So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Friday, June 26th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Monday, June 29th: Nerd’s Eye View
To buy this novel, click here.