Number One Chinese Restaurant
by Lillian Li
Named a Must-Read by TIME, Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal, Star Tribune, Fast Company, The Village Voice, Toronto Star, Fortune Magazine, InStyle, and O, The Oprah Magazine
Long Listed for The Center for Fiction’s 2018 First Novel Prize
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.
New in Paperback June 4, 2019
[Number One Chinese Restaurant] is a lot of things . . . a multigenerational immigration story, an insider look at the often grueling life of the career server or line cook, a romance, a coming-of-age (at any age). Most significantly, it is a joy to read―I couldn’t get enough.
Li shines in portraying lives shaped by work in this service industry . . . [rewarding] readers with a compelling family story about love, work, and what it means to serve.
[Li] writes with a confidence that suggests decades of experience. . . . Imaginative and evocative . . . [Number One Chinese Restaurant] is an insightful and elegant novel, beautifully written and with an impressively large and diverse cast of characters.
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.
A smart combination of Chinese-American life, service industry travails, and the ups and downs of belonging to a family, Number One Chinese Restaurant will make great discussion fare for book clubs.
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.
Evoking every detail of [this restaurant] with riveting verisimilitude . . . Li’s sense of the human comedy and of the aspirations burning in each human heart puts a philosophical spin on the losses of her characters. . . . A writer to watch.
Li has crafted complex and nuanced characters . . . bringing depth and shape to the lives of those often found behind the scenes.
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.
A deliciously comic debut novel about secrets, scandal, and the patriotism at the heart of the hustle.
Fantastic. . . . Reminiscent of a prime time drama that you can’t stop watching.
Blends delicious writing with intricate family dynamics, the perfect recipe for a page-turner to devour in the summer sun.
Funny, tender, and tragic, Number One Chinese Restaurant is a perfectly seasoned debut.
Li takes us into the world of restaurants that many Americans frequent, but don’t understand. The Beijing Duck House . . . is a neighborhood staple, but the labor of the owner, staff, and cooks is invisible. Li brings that world to life, giving readers a glimpse into what it takes to keep establishments running and serving soul-stirring food.
A vibrant multi-generational debut. . . . This engrossing novel reads like a highly entertaining soap opera.
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.
Li taps into the universal tensions of generational conflict with a light, humane touch. . . . [A] deeply affecting, intricately detailed work.
So expertly does first-time novelist Lillian Li conjure the Beijing Duck House, a gaudy, tatterdemalion restaurant in Rockville, Md., that readers of Number One Chinese Restaurant can almost taste its signature dish and feel the heat of its woks. . . . By turns darkly funny and heartbreaking.
[Li] never loses control of this tight, well-paced story, delivering tragedy, dark humor, and even a few surprises by the end.
Evocative. . . . Li’s novel revolves around the tangled inner workings of the family-owned Beijing Duck House . . . Chinese-born family members and workers [for whom] the Beijing Duck House has displaced Beijing itself as ‘the heart-center of the universe.’ . . . [Li’s writing] engrosses.
[A] crackling debut. . . . Li’s talent for human tragicomedy grows more evident by the page.
A wonderfully honest portrait of what it takes to make it in America.
Darkly hilarious. . . . Number One Chinese Restaurant is anything but typical, as Li combines broiling anger and slow-simmering love in delicious proportions.
A freshly written, punchily flavored, and richly realized tale of intergenerational family strife.
Li vividly depicts the lives of her characters and gives the narrative a few satisfying turns, resulting in a memorable debut.
Li expertly crafts a deeply felt and beautifully evoked multigenerational novel. . . . Heartful, tender, necessary, and wise.
A heady read of parents and children, youth and aging, and above all what it means to be family and how far we are willing to go to give it all up.