Book Review

Review – Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li


The popular Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland has been serving devoted regulars for decades, but behind the staff’s professional smiles simmer tensions, heartaches and grudges from decades of bustling restaurant life. 

Owner Jimmy Han has ambitions for a new high-end fusion place, hoping to eclipse his late father’s homely establishment. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, is more concerned with restoring the dignity of the family name than his faltering relationship with his own teenaged daughter, Annie. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, yearn to turn their thirty-year friendship into something more, while Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. 

When disaster strikes and Pat and Annie find themselves in a dangerous game that means tragedy for the Duck House, their families must finally confront the conflicts and loyalties simmering beneath the red and gold lanterns.

My Review:

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li is published in paperback today and I thought I would write a blog post about this book. I read it a few months back and was not surprised at all when it was longlisted for 2019 Women’s Prize Award.

When I knew Pushkin Press was going to publish Number One Chinese Restaurant earlier in the year, I was so very excited. First of all, it was Pushkin Press, one of my favourite publishing houses; I would pretty much read anything they publish. Secondly, this book was about a chinese restaurant. To be very honest, I haven’t seen anything like it before, and as a chinese myself, I couldn’t wait to read it.

This is such a character driven novel and story. It is a multi-generational family saga which centres around the people working in or associate with Beijing Duck House in Maryland. It focuses on the complex relationships between the owners, the employees and the families. While I was reading this book, I could see all the chinese traditions and customs and the important role they play in this story. These have given the story an interesting edge and an helpful insight for those who are not very familiar with how a typical Chinese migrant family and community work.

What I loved most about this book and the reason why it deserved to be longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize award was the way Lillian Li portrayed the characters. She has excellently captured the complicated, calculating, deceitful relationships in the restaurant. There are gossip and backstabbing; there are dark humour and there are heart-warming moments. I love how realistic it feels! These characters created by Lillian don’t feel fictional, they feel like real people in real life. The conversations and dialogues are also another highlight for me, witty and thoughtful. I finished this book in one sitting and missed these characters immediately!

Number One Chinese Restaurant is an outstanding and impressive debut novel. It is dark but full of hearts and life. It is original, complex and so very addictive! The characters are what make this book for me. It is so well deserved when it was longlisted for 2019 Women’s Prize!

Thank you so much Tabitha and Pushkin Press for gifting me this beautiful copy to review. Make sure you go check out this book!

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