cover image Scratching the Head of Chairman Mao

Scratching the Head of Chairman Mao

Jonathan Tel. Turtle Point, $17 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-885983-72-5

Tel’s beguiling collection (after The Beijing of Possibilities) follows several characters in China who are connected to a billionaire before his death. In “The Sadness and Beauty of the Billionaire,” Qin, the billionaire, says, “The truth always lies in the gaps between the stories.” Indeed, as readers page through the stories, they gain a sense of the bigger picture around Qin. In “Elvis Has Left Beijing” two Chinese women decide on different dating paths: one with Chinese men and one with foreigners. During their story, a person in a panda suit rides by on a bike. Later, that moment appears in “Year of the Panda,” in which Tel reveals who is in the panda outfit and why. As characters feature in multiple stories, their connections to Qin emerge: his wife’s chauffeur, a business associate, or a prostitute he visited. Readers will find themselves flipping back to previous stories to find links and fill in the gaps around Qin’s life. Tel’s masterful work is an enchanting enigma. (Jan.)