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

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

more