Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jonathan Tel

Jonathan Tel is the author of the story collection Arafat’s Elephant (Counterpoint, 2002) and the novel Freud’s Alphabet (Counterpoint, 2003). His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, and Zoetrope. He has worked as a quantum physicist and an opera librettist.

Tel's latest book is the short story collection, The Beijing of Possibilities.

A few days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I have several books on my desk, reading a chapter of one, a chapter of another, as the fancy takes me. I'm going through some books about China, related to my own writing, as well as those about places and times I know little of.

The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu is oral history: a series of interviews with Chinese at the bottom of the ladder. Most of his subjects are elderly, having lived through the turbulence of the last half century. Fascinating stories from a professional mourner, a safecracker, a mortician, a restroom attendant, and more. The interviews are skilfully edited, so that each has the shape of a short story, with the help of Wen Huang, who was also the translator. I like that the translation has a strong Chinese flavor.

There was a tradition of erotic fiction in the Ming dynasty - an entire body of literature most of us know nothing of. Patrick Hanan has translated much of this; now I'm reading his collection, Falling In Love. Fascinating to learn about a culture so unlike our own, yet not as far as all that from contemporary China.

I was a poet before I was a fiction writer. I admire the rare combination of novels in verse, with rhyme and meter, please. So I'm re-reading Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate, set in and around San Francisco in the 1980s. Also Equinox by Matt Rubinstein. Taking place over twenty-four hours in Sydney, the lives of various characters intertwine. The book is unobtainable outside Australia, but it was seralized in the Sydney Morning Herald, and I'm reading it on their website.
Read "Year of the Gorilla" and "Though the Candles Flicker Red," selections from The Beijing of Possibilities, at The China Beat.

Read more about The Beijing of Possibilities at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue