At the age of fourteen Pan Yuliang, an orphan girl in the care of her opium-addicted uncle, finds herself in the third-class cabin of a steamship bound for a strange new town. When Pan and her uncle arrive in the city he sells his niece to ‘The Hall of Eternal Splendour’, where she is destined to live out her life as a prostitute in its smoky black rooms.
And yet, two years later, escape appears in the unlikely form of a government inspector who will take Pan as his concubine and introduce her to a glamorous new life in 1920s Shanghai: a life of love and of art.
But as Pan begins to realize her talent as a painter she also sees that she may lose something even more precious: a life of safety.
I just swallowed this book. I couldn’t stop, not even during school. I read in class and on breaks and on the bus, even though reading on the bus gives me a headache.
The beautiful thing about this book is that it constantly makes you feel safe, it makes you feel like you know where things are headed, pulling you into a false sense of security. Then it brings on some crazy twist. No matter how much you prepare yourself, it’s hard to see it coming.
It’s hard to believe that the book was based off of a true story. The author tells the story so well, adding so many details and characters from imagination that it makes you wonder what the real Pan Yuliang would have said had she read this book.
A good book is one that sucks you in and makes you feel like you’re actually there, and not just reading about it. This is what this book does: it turns a short, dry and potentially boring biography into an amazing tale of 20th century China. It makes you feel like you’re there too. The feeling even lingers on after you’ve closed the book.
The story tells of the hardships of trying to be an independent woman in 20th century China. Yuliang doesn’t even realize her longing to be independent and free. She knows that she can’t be, and so she isn’t. When she was given a small push, however, she began not only to think for herself, but to speak and act on her own beliefs.
Through Yuliang, we see the difficulties of poverty, of womanhood, of independence and of war. We learn what happens to someone who is bound, in more than one way. We witness what happens when they are freed from these bindings.
The only thing I have to complain about is that the author kind of skips long spaces of time every now and then, and then we have to guess what the hell happened between the previous chapter and this one. It’s a bit irritating, and I think there would have been better ways to link thw two chapters, even if a few years have passed. The way it is done here makes you lose track of what’s happening for a moment. However, this is only done several times throughout the book.
Length: 496 pages
My Rating: 8.5 / 10