The Painter from Shanghai

Sarah Towers in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_02_may_27_1224In 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.

It doesn’t hurt that Yuliang’s life — buffeted by the seismic cultural and political shifts in China during the first half of the 20th century — makes for an irresistible story: born in 1895 and orphaned as a child, Yuliang was sold into sexual slavery at 14 by her opium-addicted uncle. After seven years in the brothel, she was bought out by Pan Zanhua, a progressive official who made her his concubine, then his second wife, and encouraged her painting. One of a handful of women accepted into the Shanghai Art School, she went on to win fellowships for study in Paris and Rome. After several years abroad, she returned to China, where success and scandal — thanks to her Western-influenced nude self-portraits — followed. In 1937, with Shanghai and Nanking under bloody assault by the Japanese, Yuliang fled China for good, settling alone in Paris, where she died, impoverished, in 1977.

More here. You can read an interview with Jennifer Cody Epstein here. Her official website, with a lot more information, is here. And you can look at some paintings by Yuliang here. We are happy that Jennifer will right a guest column at 3QD soon.