Image by Nod Young used under a Creative Commons license.
Jonathan Tel, The Beijing Of Possibility (Other Press, 2009).
This collection of short stories is not just set in the Chinese capital, it is of and about the city. Tel’s Beijing is a city is close to the country, in a China which is not far from the West, and set in modern times which do not leave the past behind. Tel is fascinated by the different lives which come together in the city, by the forks which bring people to where they are now and the turns in which lives are changed and left behind — by all of Beijing’s possibilities. This Beijing is populated by messengers in gorilla suits and pick-pockets, opera composers and buskers, executives and factory workers. The disparate strands are tied together in the last story through a clever device, an effective bit of playfulness that seemed neither contrived nor obtrusive. The stories also are accompanied by Tel’s black-and-white photographs of Beijing.
Via Scott Esposito, here is one excerpt (Zoetrope)and here is another (if that link doesn’t work, try this one), and another. Terry says Tel’s Beijing is a vast, unknowable stage where opposites clash. Mark H. says Tel takes the everyday mundane life of typical Beijing residents and shares their dreams, humour and irony. L. Dean Murphy says it captures the essence of China’s rapid change. Simon Fowler says Tel’s writing shows a subtle and playful humour, and a sense of Chinese history and culture. Barbara Ardinger says these stories are hypnotic. Jonathan Shock calls the stories windows into the split second pieces of action you see every day on the streets of any big city, and adds that in Beijing you know that the truth is much more interesting than what your imagination can muster. Publisher’s Weekly calls it a glimpse into the complicated, vibrant world of Beijing. Matthew Jakubowski interviewed Tel for The Quarterly Conversation. Here are questions for discussion and the publisher’s reader’s guide. Tel talks about taking the photographs which accompany the stories. Marshal Zeringue caught up with Tel, who’s been reading about China.