At the age of fourteen, Pan Yuliang, a young orphan girl in the care of an opium-addicted uncle, finds herself in the third-class cabin of a crowded steamship bound for a strange new town. When Pan and her uncle arrive in the city he sells his innocent young niece to 'The Hall of Eternal Splendour,' where she is destined to live out her life as a prostitute in its smoky backrooms. And yet, three 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 realise her talent as a painter she also sees that she may lose something more precious: a life of safety.
Based on an extraordinary true story, Epstein's novel is the captivating tale of a singularly daring life - of suffering and redemption, of fame and notoriety, and ultimately of a devastating choice: between art and one great love.