The Painter From Shanghai
With this fictionalized account of the life of the famous painter Pan Yuliang, Epstein presents a lush, exquisitely detailed portrait of China during the early 1900s. An orphan who is forced into prostitution by her opium-smoking uncle, Yuliang suffers one hardship after another as a child. In the brothel where she works, she eventually becomes one of the most popular girls, attracting the eye of Pan Zanhua, a customs inspector. She soon becomes his concubine and leaves the brothel behind for Shanghai, where she takes classes at the Art Academy. As a painter, Yuliang proves a natural, and she wins a scholarship that enables her to study in Europe. The time abroad inevitably changes her. When Yuliang comes back to China, she finds that the country is on the brink of revolution, and that its officials disapprove of her nude paintings, which are viewed as pornographic. Conflicting political and artistic beliefs lead to trouble at an exhibit of Yuliang’s work in Shanghai, and she comes close to turning her back on the thing she loves most—her art. This is a remarkable novel, the dramatic story of a woman who is forced to choose between art and survival, passion and politics. Writing with authority about China’s turbulent history, Epstein clearly has a gift for bringing the past to life.
A reading group guide is available online.

The God of War
Silver, author of the novel No Direction Home, has crafted a moving narrative about a troubled young boy and his struggle to find himself. Set in 1978 in the desert of Southern California, the novel focuses on 12-year-old Ares Ramirez who lives with his mother, Laurel, and his mentally handicapped brother, Malcolm, in a small trailer. Laurel has an unorthodox view of parenting and seeks treatment for seven-year-old Malcolm with some hesitation. Her noncommittal boyfriend is a sore point with Ares, who feels hemmed in and restless in the tiny trailer. Experiencing his first pangs of adolescent angst—feelings that soon develop into violent tendencies—Ares seeks a way to release his pent-up frustration. When he befriends Kevin, the adopted son of Malcolm’s new speech therapist and a boy with problems of his own, Ares gets a taste of the real, grown-up world, which he is not quite mature enough to handle. After his destructive impulses come to a head, he is forced to make some overwhelming decisions—choices that will forever alter the course of his young life. Silver writes with wisdom and compassion about family ties and the difficulties of growing up. The California desert, barren yet beautiful, which she so vividly renders, provides a haunting backdrop for this unforgettable work of fiction.
A reading group guide is included in the book and available online.

The German Bride
Hershon’s third novel is a richly imagined work of historical fiction that takes place in the American West in the 1860s. After a scandal strikes her family, Eva Frank, a young German Jew, leaves Berlin with her new husband, Abraham, and his brother, Meyer, both thriving dry goods salesmen. Hoping to establish themselves in America, they travel to New Mexico and settle in Santa Fe. But once there, it becomes clear that Abraham has other plans—and other inclinations. A womanizer who is addicted to gambling, Abraham—an unlikely father—nevertheless insists that he wants to start a family. But a series of miscarriages and the strangeness of her surroundings drive Eva to despair. Relying on her dowry, she makes plans to leave Santa Fe and her husband and start a new life in San Francisco. This is easier said than done, thanks to volatile, unpredictable Abraham, who becomes a dangerous obstacle on Eva’s path to happiness. Hershon, author of Swimming and The Outside of August, brings the West into sharp focus in this compelling and lyrically written novel. With Eva, she offers readers a complex and strong-willed heroine, who is determined to make a place for herself in an unfamiliar world.
A reading group guide is included in the book and available online.

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