... moving ... expertly translated ... 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 ... Essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary life in China, and highly recommended for memoir enthusiasts in general.
Cai’s talent as a journalist shines through, especially in the stories about his school friends who never felt at home and always seemed to be reaching for more ... Vessel isn’t the first English book to examine Chinese millennials, but most have been written by foreign journalists or Chinese who have immigrated to the West. Cai’s book is a unique look into the background of a thirty-something in contemporary China.
Through [Cai's] journalistic eye, he makes astute and penetrating observations about human behavior and motivations. Though his essays grow shorter and lose steam towards the end, overall his pieces are deeply moving ... Cai’s deep respect and love for the people who are important to him shine through in his beautiful and poignant profiles.
Chongda paints a tantalizing portrait of a changing China in his dazzling English-language debut ... 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.