BIOGRAPHY

Vessel

HarperVia. Jul. 2021. 304p. tr. from Chinese by Dylan Levi King. ISBN 9780063038004. $25.99. MEMOIR
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With this debut, journalist Cai provides a moving collection of autobiographical essays, expertly translated by King. Each essay is centered around a particular person or event from Cai’s life. Readers will get a sense of the course of his life from his childhood to the present, but because the essays are not exactly chronological, some events that Cai alludes to earlier in the book aren’t explained in greater detail until later. This allows the author to reveal life events in interesting ways and offer a vivid portrait of family and friendship. Although there are glimpses into China’s 21st-century political realities—for example, Cai’s father loses his job for violating the one-child policy—this work isn’t primarily concerned with politics. Rather, it is a window into aspects of family life, spiritual life, and day-to-day life in China more generally. This book brings specific attention to Fujian province, where the author grew up.
VERDICT Essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary life in China, and highly recommended for memoir enthusiasts in general. Readers interested in personal histories of elite Chinese political families should also consider Lan Yan’s memoir The House of Yan.
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