The Banished Immortal
In his own time (701–762), Li Bai’s brilliant poems—shaped by Daoist thought, filled with an irrepressible lust for life—were never given their proper due. Nonetheless, his lines rang out on the lips of 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. 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, following Bai from his origins on the western frontier to his rambling travels as a young man. 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.
Today, Bai’s verses remain an inextricable part of the Chinese language—taught to schoolchildren, recited at parties and toasts—and are famed throughout the world. 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, drink, dance, and mourn without reservation produced some of the world’s most enduring verses.