China is the center of the world, and the center of China is Beijing, and at the center of Beijing is a billionaire financier named Qin. At the opening of this novel-in-stories, billionaire Qin is lying in state at his funeral, victim of a sudden and premature death. Moving back and forth in time, we meet a wide range of Chinese, all linked to Qin by a degree or two of separation.
... deliciously tangled ... Its language at first a frenzied blur to match the thief’s desperation, and toward the end diffuse as it grasps for second chances, the book experiments with form in fascinating ways. Its characters rise and fall, then return again later, their scars and hardened shells exposed and complex. The end impression may be less flattering than Qin’s daughter would like, but it reveals certain truths, among them that every action must eventually be answered for.
Counterfeiters are everywhere in the scam-or-be-scammed rat race Mr. Tel entertainingly depicts ... Mr. Tel is excellent at subtly warping the ordinary experiences of his characters, blending the real with the absurd. His one misstep is in a kind of narrative distortion, in which the Western Sinophile 'author' of these stories appears as a character to warn about his own reliability. This reads like a sop to critics of cultural appropriation. But Mr. Tel’s stories are good enough to need no disclaimer.
Tel generates variety in these stories by shifting from conventional modes to jittery expression. But his satiric mode doesn’t call for complexity or nuance or lyricism. It is as if Tel is channeling Winesburg, Ohio into Beijing grotesques. Pacing, nimble plotting, and telling details make the stories work ... The facts, circumstances and stakes in these stories are spelled out in high profile, leaving the reader little to do but concur with the state of things—and to enjoy the intrigue.