The Painter from Shanghai

In turn-of-the-century China, a young orphan is sold into sexual bondage by her opiate-addicted uncle; a brutal betrayal that might easily have marked the end of a short, tragic story. But for Pan Yuliang it is only the beginning of an extraordinary journey, one that will take her down the muddy waters of the Yangtze River, into the seedy backrooms of “The Hall of Eternal Splendor,” through the raucous glamour of prewar Shanghai and the bohemian splendor of the Parisian art world in the 1920’s. Based on a true story, The Painter from Shanghai follows the remarkable evolution of one of the most provocative artists of the twentieth century, bringing vividly to life the Chinese post-Impressionist Pan Yuliang. Moving with the tide of historical events, The Painter from Shanghai celebrates an astonishing life and a singularly daring painting style – one that led to fame, notoriety, and, ultimately, a devastating choice between Pan’s art and the one great love of her life.

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Praise for ‘The Painter from Shanghai’

“In this age of memoir and thinly veiled autobiographical fiction, writers who take high dives into deeply imagined waters have become increasingly rare — and valuable. What a pleasure, then, to discover that Jennifer Cody Epstein, whose luminous first novel, The Painter From Shanghai is based on the actual life of Pan Yuliang, a former child prostitute turned celebrated painter, also happens to be one such writer….an irresistible story.”
The New York Times | FULL REVIEW
“A page turner…non-Chinese-speaking Epstein writes about historical China and the Chinese in a surprisingly authentic way. Her descriptions of brothel life and the landscape of Shanghai, and her rendering of traditional weddings, funerals and foot bindings, makes the book feel like a cross between Zhang Yimou’s movies and Chen Yifei’s oil paintings.”
South China Morning Post | FULL REVIEW
“[A] sensitive and persuasive retelling…one of the most remarkable things about this book is Epstein’s imaginative ability to make it all come alive through the precision of detail and evocative image. She manages to convey a sense of the ambience of the period that is at once poetic and steeped in realism.”
Huffington Post | Full REview
“Epstein’s debut novel thwarts the barriers of language, time and space. With its vivid narration, the book takes readers to the colorful arts and unusual life of the ‘Chinese Vincent Van Gogh’ in the early 20th century.”
Sing Tao Daily
“Epstein’s sweeping debut novel, set in early 20th-century China, fictionalizes the life of Chinese painter Pan Yuliang…[Her] take on Yuliang’s life is captivating to the last line.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred review) | Full Review
“A compelling, sensuous imagining of the life of 20th-century Chinese artist Pan Yuliang. Orphaned by her mother and betrayed by her uncle who sold her to a brothel at age 14, Yuliang survives degradation, tragedy and loss to build a remarkable life for herself in Shanghai and France. With clear, striking prose, rich historical details and enchanting characters, Jennifer Cody Epstein paints a masterpiece of her own.”
Roanoke Times
“Epstein’s spotless pace, vivid characterization and often-breathtaking descriptions elevate the novel above any initial similarities with Memoirs of a Geisha to become its own distinctive canvas…Epstein’s true achievement in resurrecting such a passionate woman who pursued a life of her own despite intrinsic barriers.”
Chicago Tribune
“Epstein’s harrowing—and historically accurate—details show that through darkness comes greatness.”
Marie Claire
“[A ]luminous tribute of a novel…It’s difficult to convey what an extraordinary woman [Pan] Yuliang was, but Epstein does it with masterful grace.”
“Jennifer Epstein has written a historical novel on a grand scale that reads like a fable, a dark love story, a triumphant tale of survival. Pan Yuliang, a girl sold to the mythical, though all too real, degradations of a brothel makes her way to distinction as an artist. From the promise of her first charcoal sketches to the triumphant exhibition in Paris, she is fully realized. Yuliang’s doubt of her talent, her every determination to cross borders–East to West, constraints of gender, art as it attempts to render life —is fully imagined in Epstein’s work. She is as learned in the enchantments of storytelling as she is in the real politics of Chinese and expatriate life.”
Maureen Howard, author of The Silver Screen
The Painter from Shanghai is an exquisitely rendered tale about the artist’s struggle for self realization. One could not have a more humble background—orphan, prostitute—than our young heroine, yet it seems that adversity fuels her art. Jennifer Cody Epstein relishes Yuliang’s struggle and does not stint on descriptive detail or psychological insight. This is a magnificent book, a fascinating read.”
Frances Sherwood, author of Night of Sorrows
“What astonishes most about The Painter from Shanghai is not just its epic scale, its exhaustive research or its wildly ambitious subject matter, but the fact that Jennifer Cody Epstein has woven these elements together with such lush and inventive writing. This is a phenomenal debut.”
Joanna Hershon, author of Swimming, The German Bride and A Dual Inheritance
“Like Tracy Chevalier did with Girl with a Pearl Earring, Jennifer Epstein has written a truly fascinating and sympathetic portrait of an artist in The Painter from Shanghai. Yuliang’s story is by turns harrowing, passionate, and inspiring. A moving story, and a real page-turner too.”
Binnie Kirshenbuam, author of An Almost Perfect Moment and Hester Amid the Ruins
“In The Painter from Shanghai, Jennifer Epstein has given us a luminous, compelling debut novel. Yuling’s story is as captivating as it is chilling, vividly told, hard to put down.”
Helen Schulman, author of A Day at the Beach and This Perfect Life

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