The Painter of Shanghai is a must read for fans of Amy Tan's writing and Memoirs of a Geisha lovers. Jennifer Cody Epstein writes about the life of a famous Chinese "Western-style Woman Painter" Pan Yuliang spanning 1913 through 1957. Did I say writes? Understatement. Make that paints, sculpts, embroiders a sweeping portrait of a child sold into prostitution for an opium fix.
Epstein pens Yuliang as authentically as I've ever seen a character written and once I picked up the book I was in China or France or the Hall of Eternal Splendor. Yuliang's point of view bleeds colors, shadows, light and contrast, painting with lush words the horror of her situation. Melancholy and longing wash each chapter and each scene, not with gray, but with monochromatic blues and purples.
This is not an easy read. The horror of Yuliang's life is raw and ugly. Her spirit and the beauty that she was able to find within that life make the book one I will pick up again. Don't expect a clean, happy ever after read, instead it is a rich story that will haunt you.