AN EMPIRE OF WOMEN by Karen Shepard

AN EMPIRE OF WOMEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A half-successful debut focusing on three very different women and the family ties that keep them together despite their outsider status in three different cultures: Chinese, French, and American.

Celine Arnaux is a rich, famous photographer, now 75, whose haunting and bizarrely erotic images of her young granddaughter won her international acclaim and also notoriety years ago, especially in her native China. The only child of a French surgeon and his Chinese wife, raised in Paris in privileged circumstances (albeit shadowed by racism), Celine was and is supremely indifferent to everything but her art. She always neglected her passive daughter Sumin, and was interested in her granddaughter Cameron only as a model. Compliant to a fault, Sumin permitted Cameron to be photographed by Celine from infancy on, often nude or half-clad in Chinese Communist garb of some sort, in settings that evoke barely hidden violence. Presumably the imagery thus created is meant to represent the assault on traditional Chinese culture by Mao Tse-tung's brutal Red Guards during the 1960s and Celine's attempt to come to terms with that repression through her art—though the author offers up all of this without comment. It’s revealed that Celine's aged mother, who returned to Beijing after her husband's death, was found to possess the offending photographs and that a dreadful fate was in store for her. As if the cold-hearted Celine ever cared. When these women converge on an isolated cabin in Virginia for a reunion of sorts because Celine has grudgingly consented to be interviewed there for Aperture, the underlying tension is made all too clear by the ceaseless, icy bickering. Shepard's oddly disjointed story is not served well by frequent shifts in point of view, and a dispassionate style is too often dressed up with quotes from great literature, asides in French, and inconsequential musing on the creative process.

A cerebral study of self-absorbed women that never dares to question its own artistic pretensions.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-399-14667-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2000




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