Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist

There has been a lot of buzz on Instagram and Twitter lately about the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Lots of big important book people showing off which books they’re reading and comparing what books they have already read.  I got sucked into it, of course, and immediately checked out the list to see if I had read any.  Circe by Madeline Miller and My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite were recent reads for me and I loved them both.  Especially My Sister the Serial Killer-if you can find it on audio, I highly recommend it.  One thing led to another and my Library Holds turned a little overwhelming because I added a ton of books from the List.  I’m currently working on Milkman and Lost Children Archive and I’m excited to try them after reading Number One Chinese Restaurant.  Yes, I know, they are completely different books, but Number One Chinese Restaurant was so good I can’t wait to read the others on the list.  

Number One Chinese Restaurant takes us behind the scenes of the Beijing Duck House in Maryland.  Founded by Bobby Han, the restaurant is taken over after his death by his sons Jimmy and Johnny Han.  Jimmy has left the day-to-day management to Johnny who has dreams of running his own exclusive establishment.  What Johnny doesn’t realize is that the seemingly rag-tag group of waiters and cooks at the Duck House are an intricately woven group of people who have worked together for decades and know how to keep the restaurant running smoothly.  Working in the background of everyone’s lives is Uncle Pang, adviser and fixer who’s means of making one’s dreams come true are as mysterious as his connection to the family.

When the Duck House suffers a devastating fire, everyone connected to the Duck House has their life upended.  Some families will become divided, some will become closer, and everyone will be affected.

Number One Chinese Restaurant is part mystery-part family drama.  The writing is fast paced and I immediately became invested in the characters.  Every character is incredibly well developed and I became really invested in the story of Nan Fang, one of the hostesses and Manager of the restaurant.  She is struggling with her teenage son Pat who has dropped out of school and spends more time fooling around with the boss’ daughter than working as a dishwasher.  Caught between wanting to give her son a better life and her estranged husband who has gone to the other side of the country to start his own restaurant. Added to the stress is her longtime attraction to Jack, a fellow employee and dear friend who is trying to cope with his wife’s illness while balancing overtime hours to pay the bills.  

One thing that stuck out to me the most while reading this novel was Jimmy Han’s belief that he was providing this amazing life for his employees.  He truly believed that they only lived in nice homes and neighborhoods because he provided such a great working environment. Not once does he think about how he speaks to them, how they are forced to work large amounts of overtime, or how they are far better workers than he gives them credit for.  

I really loved this book and I highly recommend it.  If you would like a copy, and want to help support the site, get yours here: