Youyoung Lee
February 29, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

More than a decade after Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden’s best-seller still inspires imitators like The Painter From Shanghai. (Even the books’ covers — an Asian beauty on a plain background — are similar.) Jennifer Cody Epstein chronicles the rags-to-riches ascent of Pan Yuliang, who’s sold into prostitution by her eccentric uncle and bought by Zanhua, a handsome inspector driven by disdain for the ”exploitation of society’s vulnerable elements” in 20th-century China. Too bad this antiquated fable — based on the bio of real-life postimpressionist Yuliang — steeps its subjects in the same hyperbolic stereotypes they seek to escape. C

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