Jin dutifully explores Li Bai’s status as a major, high-spirited poet but with little of the vigor of his subject.

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THE BANISHED IMMORTAL

A LIFE OF LI BAI (LI PO)

The National Book Award–winning Chinese-American novelist and poet sketches the life of one of his native country’s foundational poets.

Jin’s (Creative Writing/Boston Univ.; The Boat Rocker, 2016, etc.) subject, Li Bai (701-762), better known to Western readers as Li Po, wrote about rural China with a melancholy grace; his work is suffused with long rivers ferrying travelers under watchful moons, leaving lovers and drinking partners behind. The creator of this poised and forceful (if somber) work was restless, constantly torn between wanting a secure government perch and wanting to abandon mainstream society entirely. The son of a merchant, he grew up in relative financial comfort, but because of a cultural distrust of businessmen, he found it nearly impossible to qualify for officialdom. Instead, he traveled, often for years at a time, all but abandoning his wife and children, writing poems that caught the attention of fellow poets like Du Fu and of royalty; for a time, he was a favorite of the Tang dynasty emperor. However, court life felt like a gilded cage, and his attempts at statecraft were dismissed as amateurish. Li Bai is an intriguing bundle of contradictions, but Jin seems to struggle with how to reconcile them. The author is a careful, deliberate stylist, which has made for finely understated novels and short stories. When writing nonfiction, though—especially regarding a subject like Li Bai, where accurate historical records are sparse—his writing becomes restrained, even wooden. Though Jin has accessed Chinese-language sources, his book is often frustratingly bereft of interpretive power or context. For example, the author barely examines the publishing industry (or word of mouth) that led to Li Bai’s rising stardom but fusses over picayune squabbles about his behavior at court. Jin’s fine translations of his subject’s poems are blessedly abundant, but he resists delivering deep interpretations of them.

Jin dutifully explores Li Bai’s status as a major, high-spirited poet but with little of the vigor of his subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4741-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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