Number One Chinese Restaurant
by Lillian Li
Pub Date 19 Jun 2018
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Named a Summer Must-Read by TIME, Buzzfeed, Star Tribune, Fast Company, The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, Toronto Star, and O, The Oprah Magazine
"A joy to read—I couldn't get enough."
"This novel practically thumps with heartache and sharp humor."
—Chang-rae Lee, New York Times bestselling author of Native Speaker
An exuberant and wise multigenerational debut novel about the complicated lives and loves of people working in everyone’s favorite Chinese restaurant.
The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades. When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay.
Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children.
Generous in spirit, unaffected in its intelligence, multi-voiced, poignant, and darkly funny, Number One Chinese Restaurant looks beyond red tablecloths and silkscreen murals to share an unforgettable story about youth and aging, parents and children, and all the ways that our families destroy us while also keeping us grounded and alive.
“A darkly comic novel about complicated families—those created by blood and those forged through circumstance. With wit and heart, Li explores a Chinese-American community torn between ambition and loyalty as each character strives for a world bigger than the restaurant that has bound them together. An exciting debut.”
—Brit Bennett, New York Times bestselling author of The Mothers
“I adored the vitality of this deviously charming and smart debut. Full of impassioned and ever-yearning characters, the novel practically thumps with heartache and sharp humor. The prose sparkles, too, with the rhythm and sting of exquisitely close observation and hard-earned wisdom, announcing Lillian Li as a striking new literary talent.”
—Chang-rae Lee, New York Times bestselling author of On Such a Full Sea and Native Speaker
“Lillian Li is a brilliant young writer and someone to watch. Her work understands human secrets generally as well as secret places both in the world and in the mind; her narratives are complex, mysterious, moving, and surprising.”
—Lorrie Moore, New York Times bestselling author of Bark and Birds of America
“If a Chinese restaurant can be seen as a kind of cultural performance, Lillian Li takes us behind the scenes to offer a richly engrossing story of overlapping intrigues—commercial, generational, and romantic. She conjures the 'eco-system' of this workplace with insider acuity and renders her bustling, hustling clan of waiters, hostesses, cooks, and managers with brilliant feeling. Number One Chinese Restaurant is a vibrant, memorable debut.”
—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes