Book Review: The Painter of Shanghai /Jennifer Cody Epstein

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

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Welcoming you (and myself) to Bookworm Alley!

Well, I’ll start with saying that I’m a total non-expert. Actually, the training I have in reading and writing is mostly self-training. In the ninth grade in Israel, you won’t find many places to learn English literature. Except English class, but that kind of sucks here.

I must say that I’m a bit more… well, mature, than most fourteen year olds. And that is mostly due to the fact that I am a total nerd, know-it-all and a bit of a crazy genius. Try to imagine me as a combination of Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood. And if you don’t know who these people are, I suggest you turn off your computer and go read Harry Potter. Right now. I’m not kidding.

Anyway, I’ve read my share of books for a fourteen year old. And I’d like to share them with you. Which is why I started this blog. It’s my second one (the first one is a personal blog, and you can find it here: The book reviews I’ll be doing won’t have a regular time, and I’ll just post one every time I finish reading a book or when I just feel like it.

I’d be more than happy for book recommendations in the comments… Living in Israel, I don’t really have the opportunity to hear about good English books often. And if I do hear about a specific book I want, I have to order it online. The book store here does have a few shelves for English books, but that’s not at all enough for me… So I’d be happy to hear your recommendations. 🙂

For you to know a bit more about me, here are some lists 🙂 :

Books I’m currently reading:

The Hobbit /J.R.R. Tolkien

The Painter from Shanghai /Jennifer Cody Epstein

On my list to read:

The Solitude of Prime Numbers /Paolo Giordano

Every Man Dies Alone /Hans Fallada

The History of Love /Nicole Krauss

The Lord of the Rings /J.R.R. Tolkien

Two favorite authors I can think of right now:

J.K. Rowling: I just can’t put into words how much she has done for me. She gave me an unforgettable childhood and I will always be grateful.

Roald Dahl: I’m in love with his creativity and I don’t care that his books are for children, I will always cherish the adventures he too me on, both during my childhood and now.


Anyway, what are you reading right now, and what’s on your list for the future? And who are your favorite writers? I’d love to know!

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