You are here

Book review: <i>The Beijing Of Possibilities</i> by Jonathan Tel

the cover of the book

With almost text-book precision, Jonathan Tel captures the essence of the perfect short story in this loosely woven collection of heartbreaks, secrets, humanities and mundanities, backdropped by the mysterious Beijing.

The story

The Beijing Of Possibilities is a collection of short stories, all centred in some capacity around the city of Beijing. From the mundane to the fantastic, each of the twelve stories is beautifully crafted and individual. While there are common threads through the entire book, and some of the stories are loosely connected, each story could stand on its own. Tel manages to bring alive the city of Beijing, with all its history and complexity, in 185 pages using a collection of weird and wonderful characters.

The style

I thoroughly enjoyed The Beijing Of Possibilities, and it wasn't just the quaint storylines and the clever self referential twisting at the end. Frankly, I'm a sucker for this exact combination of haunting, simple, and exotic. Each story was punchy, didn't drag, and contained enough subtlety to keep the mystique. Tel has resisted the temptation to be overly moralistic about communism and Chinese politics, which, while inevitably making an appearance, is kept to a subtle minimum. Which of course makes the messages more powerful.

The interweaving of the past and the present, and of myth and reality, are also very strong elements Tel has used. Each of the characters had a gloriously simple humanity, there was no authorial judgement, merely story-telling. All in all, a great read.

Who is this book for?

The Beijing Of Possibilities is a great, quick read. A good holiday read, a commuting read, an afternoon on the couch read. Very versatile, really. And of course, it has an Asian flavour, so if you're partial to such things this one is a must.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Either of Ha Jin's books. And Jonathan Tel has written other things, but I've not read them.

In short

Title: The Beijing Of Possibilities
Author: Jonathan Tel
Publisher: Other Press
ISBN: 1590513262
Year published: 2009
Pages: 185
Genre(s): Contemporary Literature, Short Stories
Review Type: