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Number One Chinese Restaurant (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

This luminous debut novel takes us inside the complex lives and loves of the owners and employees of an established Chinese restaurant in suburban DC. It is rich with detail, humor (“Vegetarian? Isn’t life hard enough?”), and, most importantly, wisdom about human nature—how we can spend a lifetime trying to “crawl out from under the shadow of our family;” how our entangled relationships can sap our energy and bring equal parts joy and misery to our lives. It is about appearances vs. reality—how impossible it is to truly know someone. It is about how those who seem to have “the instruction manual to life” often don’t have a clue. This enthralling, imperfect cast of characters could stun me with their capacity for cruelty to each other, but then could melt away my harsh judgments as they attempt to turn their lives around and forgive. Lillian’s talent for storytelling, her wisdom, and her imagination captivated me from the first rich, bustling restaurant scene to the last somber, reflective page. Brava, Lillian!

— From Jeanne's Picks

Growing up in a small town in the sixties, my first experience of Chinese food served table side in a grand manner was on our annual vacation to visit family. Just like the suburban D.C. Duck House in Lillian Li's poignant novel "Number One Chinese Restaurant," the Empress restaurant--near the White House!--boasted about its Peking Duck. My inexperienced tastebuds usually skipped it for salty sweet Mu shu pork, a big step up at least from the canned chow mein at home. The Duck House connects three generations of a restaurant dynasty and three star-crossed pairs of lovers, lovers who are about to find out, that like a good stir fry, timing is everything. This is a masterful debut. I came for the fun Chinese restaurant setting, but I stayed for the characters.


— From Carla's Picks

This amazing debut novel will leave you with permanent impressions on what family can be as Lillian Li excels in character creation, particularly that of older generations. I found myself in disbelief that someone so young could encapsulate the wisdom of relationships aged forty years so well without having lived them. More than this, however, is the representation of dual-cultured people, particularly immigrants and the inner and outer conflicts they experience in the juxtaposition of their home and assimilated cultures. This incredibly important element, and what I believe to be the marker of the next great American novel, is portrayed so well in Li’s three generations of characters. My first read of the year, Number One Chinese Restaurant stands to be one of the best.

— From Ashley


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.

About the Author

Lillian Li received her BA from Princeton and her MFA from the University of Michigan. She is the recipient of a Hopwood Award in Short Fiction, as well as Glimmer Train's New Writer Award. Her work has been featured in Guernica, Granta, and Jezebel. She is from the D.C. metro area and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Number One Chinese Restaurant is her first novel.
Product Details
ISBN: 9781250141293
ISBN-10: 125014129X
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Publication Date: June 19th, 2018
Pages: 304
Language: English