Chinese stories can be exotic to foreigners, while a foreigner telling stories about
Tel's prose treats serious themes in a romantic, humorous, at times mystical way. He is evidently very familiar with
One familiar with Chinese literature might see traces of influence from the classical novel Journey to the West, a hybrid between a fictionalized historical event (a Tang Dynasty Buddhist's journey to India to fetch the holy scriptures) and the myth of Monkey King (who helped the monk completing the perilous journey). Tel's opening story, "Year of the Gorilla," features an unnamed migrant worker in a Monkey King suit. But that is hardly the only connection.
Among the so-called "four greatest Chinese classics" – A Dream of Red Mansions,
It may not be a mere coincidence that The Beijing of Possibilities opens with the line "It's been a while since the Monkey King set out on his Journey to the West." In more than one way, many of Tel's stories apparently continue the literary tradition of Journey to the West, bringing the reader into a fictional dream where reality, parable and fantasy can hardly be told apart.
One of my favorites is "The Three Lives of Little Yu," which tells the story about a childless country couple's life-long attempts at adopting a daughter. Each time they name the girl "Little Yu," and each Little Yu is "as delightful and talented as the previous versions," but each dies unexpectedly young, until time turns to the mid 1980s. At last, to the reader's relief and fascination, the third Little Yu grows up, her "health couldn't have been better," and she has memory of her previous lives:
Thus, in a clever, parable-like structure, the story reflects a three-decade history realistically.
Another amusing story is "The Unofficial History of the Embroidered Couch." It starts as a time-travel sort of tale, about a relationship across four centuries, between a Ming Dynasty princess and a modern-day young man who works at an advertising agency in
Tel's stories are full of contrasts. The past and the present are comingled in the romance across time. The city and countryside are blended when the two farmers arrive in