cover image The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai

The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai

Ha Jin. Pantheon, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4741-1

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. [em](Jan.) [/em]