Number One Chinese Restaurant is a fascinating look at one Chinese restaurant – the focal point of our character’s lives. It is a character driven novel that focuses on the different ways our lives are wrapped around this fulcrum.
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.
Number One Chinese Restaurant is heavily character driven in the best way. Because we can see the thoughts and dreams of all the characters it is almost looking behind all these windows. There are multiple layers of love stories, families, and revenge. The protagonists are lively and dynamic. They take you into their lives and you quickly begin to understand their desires and fears.
This complex book lets you encounter multiple characters entangled in an intricate dance around one restaurant. Their lives revolve around that one focal point and as the story enfolds as we not only find out what they are doing now, but what lead up to this moment. Li is a truly gifted character artist that places our heroes, and maybe also anti-heroes, into the right moment. The tension is palatable and there are all these forces and threads coming together.
If you’re into diverse fiction, family stories, and character driven books, Number One Chinese Restaurant is for you. Check it out on Goodreads.