December 29, 2009
The Beijing of PossibilitiesI finally finished reading The Beijing of Possibilities which literally showed up on my doorstep one day - no note.
It's a collection of dreamlike short stories out of the lives of Beijing's residents, from crime-fighting, gorilla-costumed messengers to thieves, buskers and composers. The stories form an impression of Beijing on the eve of the 2008 Olympics, weaving in the culture, history and present reality of a city undergoing rapid change.
Each surreal-like story had me engaged, particularly because of its visual energy throughout. For example: "A busker plays the happiest of sad tunes on his erhu, and the sweet-potato seller has sweet potatoes for everyone. Glorious cars glide past, a flock of brilliant bicycles, buses filled with contented souls. Thousands of fascinating conversations cross each other in the chill air...."
And then, "vehicles nose forward. Everyone on foot waits by the curb, as at the starting line of a race. And now, the lights change. From north and south, east and west, pedestrians advance."
Later on, another favorite in the last short story of the book: The Most Beautiful Woman in China, "she contemplated him tucking into the goose head and the duck feet and the frog with peppers and the blood tofu and a stir-fry of chicken with potato and the braised cauliflower. He ate as if he would never eat again; and she quietly drank a little soup and dipped her chopsticks in several dishes, taking just enough as not to seem ungrateful."
Alas, a taste of Jonathan Tel's style. In addition to writing short stories, he has worked as a physicist and an opera librettist.
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