The Painter of Shanghai didn’t get much noise here in the United States, but the book, based on a true story, has stayed with me. When I heard about Epstein’s new book I have kept my fingers cross for the release date. The novel is based on the actual life of Pan Yuliang, a former child prostitute turned celebrated painter, also happens to be one such writer. In The Painter From Shanghai, Epstein concentrates on Yuliang’s time in the brothel — chillingly named the Hall of Eternal Splendor — and her early years with the devoted Pan Zanhua when, as Epstein imagines, Yuliang’s understanding of herself as a (relatively) free woman and artist began to emerge. Anyway the new book, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is set in Japan during the Second World War. It revolves around people and events leading up to the bombing of Tokyo. Narratives are told through the perspectives of a downed bomber pilot, an Occupation soldier, and a gifted architect who helped modernize the Tokyo skyline is now charged with destroying it.
The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop takes on the hard subject of suicide. It’s a heavy subject—about how the mother contrives to keep her family from falling apart after her 17-year-old daughter committed suicide. It’s a glimpse into the life of a family who is on the path to recovery and of two daughters whose lives have been forever altered by the loss of their sister but who have managed to pull through. This one shall wait. Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin reminds me of Middlesex and Annabel. Max is an intersex teen who has always identified as a boy, but certain catastrophic events lead him to question who and what he is. To his peers he’s perfect: a talented soccer player, beautiful to look at, an excellent student. They have no idea the pain and confusion he’s going through, especially because he can’t talk to anyone about his secrets, not even his parents, and least of all, the girl he likes.