cover image Vessel: A Memoir

Vessel: A Memoir

Cai Chongda, trans. from the Chinese by Dylan Levi King. HarperVia, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-063-03800-4

Chongda paints a tantalizing portrait of a changing China in his dazzling English-language debut. Growing up in the 1980s in a coastal village in southern Fujian province, Chongda worked with his mother at his family’s gas station to support them after a series of strokes left his father paralyzed. In the words of his great grandmother, “Your body’s a vessel.... If you put your body to work, you can start to live.” Jumping between different moments in his youth, he depicts the tensions between traditional life in rural China and the influence of the flashier Western world, recalling how neighbors in his sleepy town bristled when “the streets began to glow with neon, and outsiders rushed in like the tide, patronizing the newly opened bars.” At one point, he remembers a classmate nicknamed Tiny, who arrived from the city in a luxury sedan with hair “the floppy style of Hong Kong singer Aaron Kwok.” Like Tiny, Chongda eventually escaped to the big city, where he worked as a reporter in Beijing. Looking back on his life, he concludes, “I have lived in the gap between worlds.” It’s in this space that his writing glows, juxtaposing the beauty of both small-town living and urban life. This shines with the bright talent of an excellent storyteller. Agent: Markus Hoffman, Regal Hoffman & Associates. (July)