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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book Review: The Painter from Shanghai

Have you read this book "The Painter from Shanghai," by Jennifer Cody Epstein? I'm participating in the virtual book tour and got the opportunity to review the book and blog about it. Cool beans.


First, I should confess that I LOVE reading, but am certainly not your typical book reviewer. I used to be able to read an entire book in one day (oh the luxury), but now, with two three-year-olds at the helm, only get to read tiny little bits at a time. Sometimes it can take a month just to finish one book. And the ones that don't immediately grab my attention are carelessly set down, buried in kid debris, and never picked back up.

Not the case with this book. The Painter from Shanghai was an interesting read from page one to page 408. I was drawn in by the intricate settings, the captivating characters, the rich language and imagery that Epstein used, and especially the interesting artistic observations and lessons. I also found myself returning again and again to the vivid descriptions of China, both physical and cultural.

The story is based on the life of Pan Yuliang, China's foremost female post-impressionist painter (although she protested the insertion of the word "female" in that descriptor). It's a frank look at the tragedies and triumphs of Yuliang's life and her emergence as an artist. You can see some of her paintings here, if you're curious like I was. The Painter from Shanghai isn't a puffy, light, summer read. Pan Yuliang's life was not easy, not at any point, but it's a fascinating story of a unique, daring woman and one that I'd highly recommend.

It's interesting how many of the casual artistic observations in the book apply to so many things in life. As one example, when Yuliang's art teacher extends her an astonishing invitation to attend the Shanghai Art Academy, he interupts her protestations with "My dear, one of the first things you must learn, if you are to enter this terrible field, is to ration out your anxieties—and there will be many—to where they're truly needed." So true!

You can find the book in any of the big bookstores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders.

If you've already read it, I'd love to hear what you thought, good or bad. And I'd also like to get your recommendations for other book titles to add to the must-read list this summer.

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