Number One Chinese Restaurant
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
"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.
With echoes of Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster, Li's insightful debut takes readers behind the scenes of a Chinese restaurant, the Beijing Duck House, in Rockville, Md. Jimmy Han, son of the restaurant's deceased original owner, runs the business but is trying to sell it to transition to a more upscale venue, the Beijing Glory, an Asian fusion restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront. Jimmy and his older brother, Johnny, have had a running argument about the direction of the Duck House Johnny wants the restaurant to remain traditional since the death of their father. Their manager, Nan, and Ah-Jack, a waiter, have been friends for 30 years but lately have become romantically involved. Meanwhile, Nan's troubled 17-year-old son, Pat, a dishwasher, and Johnny's disaffected daughter, Annie, a hostess, have been having not-so-secret sex in the storage closet. And hovering over all of them is Uncle Pang, a mysterious, nine-fingered godfather who might hold the key to their futures. Despite the novel's leisurely plotting, Li vividly depicts the lives of her characters and gives the narrative a few satisfying turns, resulting in a memorable debut.
Spectacular! I loved this story line. It kept me engaged and interested. I was sad when it ended.