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The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po) Kindle Edition
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“The Tang-dynasty poet Li Bai, one of the most revered figures in Chinese literature, was torn between his ambition to become a great statesman and his Daoist aspiration to live a hermetic life. In this biography, the novelist Ha Jin tells Li’s story with insight and empathy. Born in 701, the son of a merchant, Li spent his life travelling in search of patrons to sponsor his political career and divine beings to help him transcend earthly knowledge. Instead, he met laborers ferrying goods along steep trails, young women waiting years for their betrotheds to return from mercantile expeditions, heroic soldiers stationed in the far north and forgotten by the court. Capturing such intimate longing and pain in his poems secured for Li the immortality denied him by politics and religion.” —The New Yorker (briefly noted)
“Ha Jin’s masterful style and deep affection for his subject make the book a pleasure to read—especially for those unfamiliar with Li Bai or Chinese poetry in general . . . The Banished Immortal liberally quotes Bai’s work, sometimes reproducing complete poems in translation to show the depth of his imagery and style. A number of readers will pick up this book knowing its author but not Li Bai, and Ha Jin makes sure they see Bai’s prodigious talent. Newcomers will be swept up in Bai’s personal history while fans of his work will enjoy Ha Jin’s own take on the man and his influence.” —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“In China Li Po remains the bard of the land, if not the world—a most recognizable global brand, second only, perhaps, to Confucius. As with any cultural icon, beneath the shining veneer must lie untold stories, apocryphal or otherwise. In The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po), the National Book Award-winning author Ha Jin has excavated historical records and examined existing biographies, both in Chinese and English, to produce a rich, moving and titillating account of the poet’s life. . . . The Banished Immortal is a deeply empathetic portrait of a literary genius whose vicissitudes in life—filled with ambitions, frailties, losses and pains—would pale a Shakespearean drama. . . . Today, when power-grabbing politicians look out for themselves rather than the public, as they did in Li Po’s time, poetry has a herculean cleaning job to do. By giving us this mesmerizing biography, Ha Jin, who began his writing career as a poet and whose lucid narrative always contains a touch of poetry, sounds a warning gong for our troubled age.” —Yunte Huang, The Wall Street Journal
“American readers’ Western bias has left the Chinese poet Li Bai less well-known here than in his native land, where he is considered a foundational writer. The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai, a new biography of the poet by author Ha Jin (Waiting, The Boat Rocker), is a worthy corrective and an engaging introduction to the poet’s life and work . . . Considering that Bai (also known as Li Po) lived from 700-762 B.C., a surprising amount is known about his life, although much of that information is shrouded in inconsistencies, myths, and questions with answers that are forever lost to time. Jin does an admirable job sorting the wheat from the chaff . . . The Banished Immortal is an affectionate and thoughtful portrait of a complicated man and a master poet.” —Robert Weibezahl, BookPage
“In Tang dynasty China, a poet could nurture high hopes. Becoming an imperial counselor exercising statecraft wasn’t inconceivable, especially if, like Li Bai (701–62), who is also known in English as Li Po, one had studied swordsmanship and history as well as literature . . . He once wangled a court placement but in less than two years resigned, disappointed at being treated as a writer only, not necessarily of poems; he never became a made man. His life as distinguished poet and fiction writer Ha Jin (The Boat Rocker, 2016) so limpidly relays it was peripatetic rather than domestic, usually away from the family he strove to support. Yet he was an unstaunchable fount of poems of friendship, drinking, dancing, nostalgia, and regret and, what is unusual and particular to him, poems adopting the perspectives of others, including ordinary men and women. Bai still stands, with his friend Du Fu, at the pinnacle of Chinese poetry, and his influence is extensive the world over.” —Ray Olson, Booklist
“Award-winning novelist and poet Jin offers a glimpse into the life of one of China’s most celebrated poets . . . Ha Jin creates a kind of hagiography that is both scholarly and emotionally engaging . . . Essential.” —Herman Sutter, Library Journal (starred review)
“Ha Jin tells the story of how a supreme artist endures the struggles, frailties and losses that are a part of any life—for the genius Li Bai, those pervasive difficulties are compounded, as well as redeemed, by art and the artist’s awareness of his gifts. This is a fluently told story, mysterious yet familiar, tragic yet sometimes comical. Ha Jin is a master storyteller.” —Robert Pinsky
“A taut introduction to the life and poetry of the influential eighth-century Daoist poet . . . Ha Jin's polished biography will give a wider audience access to the politics and beauty of a major Chinese poet. —Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
- ASIN : B07C6T6VRC
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (January 15, 2019)
- Publication date : January 15, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 2748 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 322 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #581,053 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Over the centuries, biographical accounts of the poet have been written, but the reality is that almost everything known about him is based on his poems. He wrote thousands if not tens of thousands of poems, epics, songs, and folk poems, but only a small fraction – perhaps 10 percent – have survived. The most recent biography is by National Book Award winner and Boston University professor Ha Jin, entitled “The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai.”
It’s a stunning work. Using what few biographical sources that exist and Li Bai’s poetry, Ha Jin has crafted a masterful, highly readable account that brings the poet to vivid life. That’s quite an accomplishment for the biography of a man who lived 1,300 years ago.
Born in a western province, Li Bai faced what every poet in China faced for millennia – to get ahead, you have to work for the government. To work for the government, you had to take the qualifying literary examinations. If you came from a lower-class family or the distant provinces, you were not going to be allowed to take the examinations. Your alternative was to find a high-enough government figure who could promote you and help you find a government position.
The account is meticulous and thorough. The author follows Li Bai through the 61 years of his life: his father’s determination that this son would become a poet and government official; his wanderings across China (and Li Bai was nothing if not a wanderer); his repeated and frustrated attempted to gain an official post; his swordsmanship talents; his engagement with Daoism (most court poets followed Confucianism); and more.
Li Bai was so good and so recognized as original (he didn’t write the formalized court poetry that all educated poets wrote) that he evoked jealousy on a regular basis. Original talent felt threatening, and he was blocked, ignored, privately ridiculed, and lied about for most of his adult life. For a short time, he did work as a poet in the emperor’s academy, but jealousy and his tendency to drink too much led to an end. He did not labor and sweat over his verses; instead, they seemed to flow out of the man effortlessly, like this drinking song still sung in China today:
The fine wine of Lanling gives off a fragrance—
Held in a jade bowl. it shines with amber light.
So long as the host can make me drunk,
I’ll have no idea where my hometown is.
He survived because of his friends and the people who loved his poetry. He was becoming well known even in his lifetime, but “well known” didn’t equate to “financially successful.” And when he died, his grave was almost literally lost in the weeds until a monument was built in his honor.
A native of China, Ha Jin is the author of eight novels, four poetry collections, four short story collections, and a collection of essays. He’s received the National Book Award, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, the Asian American Literary Award, and the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. He’s a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and teaches in the creative writing program at Boston University.
“The Banished Immortal” is a remarkable account of a remarkable poet. It is the story of a man’s life, largely drawn from the poems he wrote. And it tells what is still an exciting story.
I admire Ha Jin as a writer/thinker/humanist, and this book was completely rewarding and a fascinating journey into ancient China. It's themes, especially the tension between the desire to contribute to society and the need to get away from society, and the tension between the demands of art and the demands of practical statecraft, are just as applicable today as in 7th C China.