From the National Book Award-winning author of Waiting: a narratively driven, deeply human biography of the Tang dynasty poet Li Bai—also known as Li Po
In his own time (701–762), Li Bai's poems—shaped by Daoist thought and characterized by their passion, romance, and lust for life—were never given their proper due by the official literary gatekeepers. Nonetheless, his lines rang out on the lips of court entertainers, tavern singers, soldiers, and writers throughout the Tang dynasty, and his deep desire for a higher, more perfect world gave rise to his nickname, the Banished Immortal. Today, Bai's verses are still taught to China's schoolchildren and recited at parties and toasts; they remain an inextricable part of the Chinese language.
With the instincts of a master novelist, Ha Jin draws on a wide range of historical and literary sources to weave the great poet's life story. He follows Bai from his origins on the western frontier to his ramblings travels as a young man, which were filled with filled with striving but also with merry abandon, as he raised cups of wine with friends and fellow poets. Ha Jin also takes us through the poet's later years—in which he became swept up in a military rebellion that altered the course of China's history—and the mysterious circumstances of his death, which are surrounded by legend.
The Banished Immortal is an extraordinary portrait of a poet who both transcended his time and was shaped by it, and whose ability to live, love, and mourn without reservation produced some of the most enduring verses.
Novelist Jin (Waiting) presents a taut introduction to the life and poetry of influential eighth century Daoist poet Li Bai (701 762 CE). Li, known also in the West as Li Po, devoted his life to seeking a position at court and attempted to flatter a range of officials in hopes of a recommendation. He traveled through China, drinking heavily and producing obsequious but artistically impressive poems, and though he gained a devoted following, his Daoist orientation clashed with the Confucian officials who could recommend him. After years of rebuffs, he achieved a position, only to leave shortly thereafter when it became clear the emperor would not meaningfully employ his talents and advice. Li then returned to an itinerant lifestyle and underwent the strenuous Daoist initiation rituals of extreme fasting at a mountain monastery. His travels, funded by wealthy patrons and his second wife's family business, exposed him to the emperor's military missteps, and he narrowly escaped execution after joining a coup. His politically motivated marriages receive skimpy attention due to limited sources and the fact that he spent much of his life away from family. Jin's explanations of Li's poetry will help readers unfamiliar with Chinese forms see the power and beauty of Li's work, and the distinct Daoist influences that put him at odds with his Confucian contemporaries. Jin's polished biography will give a wider audience access to the politics and beauty of a major Chinese poet.