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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 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 teenage 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.


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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 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 teenage 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.

30 review for Number One Chinese Restaurant

  1. 5 out of 5

    Larry H

    Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs in the mid-1980s, my family ate dinner out nearly every Sunday evening, and more often than not, we ate Chinese food, as did many other families in my town. (I used to joke that there were classmates I saw more regularly at the Chinese restaurant than I did in high school!) While there were several different Chinese restaurants in our area, and everyone had a favorite, we frequently ate at one particular restaurant, whose owners my parents had known for a num Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs in the mid-1980s, my family ate dinner out nearly every Sunday evening, and more often than not, we ate Chinese food, as did many other families in my town. (I used to joke that there were classmates I saw more regularly at the Chinese restaurant than I did in high school!) While there were several different Chinese restaurants in our area, and everyone had a favorite, we frequently ate at one particular restaurant, whose owners my parents had known for a number of years. The owner and his wife seemed to have a fascinating relationship, and the high school gossip I was then loved to make up stories about what was going on in their lives, as well as the lives of the other employees. Perhaps those memories were what drew me to Lillian Li's Number One Chinese Restaurant —that, and the fact that Li's book takes place in a suburb of Washington, DC known for its Chinese restaurants. The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, has certainly seen better days, but it's still a favorite among the community's restaurants. The creation of immigrant Bobby Han, the Duck House was once a place where presidents and celebrities dined, but Bobby's death left the restaurant caught between his two sons, the more managerially suited Johnny, and the more impulsive, ambitious Jimmy. Jimmy has dreams of getting away from his father's legacy and opening a fancier Asian fusion restaurant where he'd never again have to serve the dishes which exhaust and repulse him. But to make his dream possible requires striking a deal with the devil, one who has been on the outskirts of their family for years now, and doesn't know how to take the word "no" for an answer. When tragedy strikes, it may make the achievement of Jimmy's dreams closer to reality, but it also upends the lives of many others. For longtime employees Nan and Ah-Jack, they are forced to confront the so-called elephant in the room, their friendship/flirtation, and decide whether to pursue something more after 30 years. But if they do, how will this affect Ah-Jack's wife and Nan's rebellious teenage son, Pat? Pat, a dishwasher at the Duck House since being expelled from high school, is in the midst of a flirtation with Annie, the hostess, who happens to be Jimmy's niece. While Annie has very little love for her father or her family's restaurant, she's not expecting to get pulled into a scheme which threatens to destroy both. As Jimmy tries to hold on to his dream, he must battle his brother, their seemingly ineffective mother, and the family friend whose menacing presence has always kept everyone on edge. But what does Jimmy really want? Is it making a name for himself, or continuing to bask in the spotlight his father built all these years ago. There's a lot going on in this book, with no shortage of melodrama, family dysfunction, angst, and even a little crime for good measure. While the different situations the characters find themselves in certainly have potential, they never really grabbed my interest as I had hoped. I don't know if there was too much to digest (no pun intended) all at once, or if it was more that the characters weren't particularly sympathetic, but I felt that the plot really dragged, and never picked up much steam. If you like stories of family dynamics, you might enjoy this one. The one thing I truly appreciated about this book is that Li didn't spend too much time dwelling on the food, so I didn't get as hungry as I often do when reading books about restaurants and cooks! NetGalley and Henry Holt & Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available! See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Everything about Number One Chinese Restaurant is just aggressively mediocre. I say 'aggressively' because you're confronted with this mediocrity on practically every page; the prose is simultaneously lifeless and overwritten, the characters are poorly drawn caricatures, the plot meanders, and this book just never manages to hit any of the emotional beats that it strives for. It's basically an emotionally hollow melodrama. Not to fully absolve Lillian Li of all of these issues, but I do believe t Everything about Number One Chinese Restaurant is just aggressively mediocre. I say 'aggressively' because you're confronted with this mediocrity on practically every page; the prose is simultaneously lifeless and overwritten, the characters are poorly drawn caricatures, the plot meanders, and this book just never manages to hit any of the emotional beats that it strives for. It's basically an emotionally hollow melodrama. Not to fully absolve Lillian Li of all of these issues, but I do believe that a lot of this could have been solved with tighter editing. Because what works about this book are its bare bones: a dysfunctional Chinese-American family struggles to run a Chinese restaurant, with inter-generational tension providing the main conflict: how does one balance a family legacy with their own plans for the future? It's a great concept, and I wanted to root for this book; I wanted to root for the Han family, but it all just fails in execution. Certain plot threads are examined and re-examined through different perspectives ad nauseum; others are abandoned after a brief mention. This book is over-saturated with details, but it doesn't pause to imbue key moments with any kind of emotional weight. When Jimmy Han's family's restaurant is set on fire, we learn the particulars of the fire-setting from about four different perspectives, but what about the aftermath? Jimmy, relying on insurance money to come through, quickly starts a new restaurant and hires staff and creates a new menu and this all happens off the page, we get from point A to point B so easily that it's a wonder we should care at all, with characters overcoming obstacles this easily. This could have been good but it just wasn't. I'd gladly read more from Lillian Li in the future, as this was a debut and it wasn't so abysmal that I'll completely write off her potential, but as a Women's Prize read it sadly felt like a waste of time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Many immigrants become entrepreneurs or workers in the service industry, and this book contemplates what this version of the "American Dream" can mean: Li's debut centers on the brothers Jimmy and Johnny, the sons of Chinese immigrants, who, after the death of their father, inherit his Chinese restaurant and have very different ideas regarding the future of their business. The decisions they take do not only have consequences for themselves, but al Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Many immigrants become entrepreneurs or workers in the service industry, and this book contemplates what this version of the "American Dream" can mean: Li's debut centers on the brothers Jimmy and Johnny, the sons of Chinese immigrants, who, after the death of their father, inherit his Chinese restaurant and have very different ideas regarding the future of their business. The decisions they take do not only have consequences for themselves, but also for the rest of their family and the cooks and waiters - the restaurant is shown as a sociotope with its own logic, history and stories, where larger dynamics regarding power and prestige, but also friendship and loyalty are played out in a confined area. I really liked that core idea, and Li introduces some great characters, like Ah-Jack, the aging waiter, whose body starts to fail him and who tries to navigate the challenges he faces with a peculiar attitude. Unfortunately, the writing is very uneven, and the pacing is off: Often, scenes are unnecessarily elongated, while others remain underexplored (like the Chinese mafioso and the strange power he holds over Jimmy's and Jonny's family - this part of the story is rather unconvincing). The novel shines when it dives into the seemingly mundane aspects of human relationships, the more unusual narrative threads often seem a little lifeless or even contrived. So all in all, I enjoyed reading the book, as it certainly has some strengths and offers interesting perspectives, but it does not live up to its full potential. I am sure though that Lillian Li will come up with stronger texts in the future - this writer does have talent, and she is only getting started.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Hu

    I received this book from NetGalley and was excited to dive into a fiction that dealt with themes surrounding the Chinese restaurant life. I personally grew up as a product of this very niche subculture. I think that Li does some things well here. She illuminates the generational barrier that disallows a conventionally intimate relationship between 1st gen parents, who toil endlessly to pave the way for their progeny, and the 2nd gen children who yearns for the existence of some kind of a relati I received this book from NetGalley and was excited to dive into a fiction that dealt with themes surrounding the Chinese restaurant life. I personally grew up as a product of this very niche subculture. I think that Li does some things well here. She illuminates the generational barrier that disallows a conventionally intimate relationship between 1st gen parents, who toil endlessly to pave the way for their progeny, and the 2nd gen children who yearns for the existence of some kind of a relationship and even at times resent the unwelcome gift of toil. She exposes, in rare occasions, that a language barrier can inhibit what communication there is left between generations. Her minor characters, in a restaurant setting where most of the book takes place, have fleeting qualities that lend to the vapid impressions and homogeneity of each character - this is very much accurate to the environment. She dabbles with the organism of Chinese microeconomy and microcosm that would exchange progressive methods of enterprising a restaurant in exchange for loyalty to your people. The cultural differences certainly collide when a business is passed on to children with a completely different framework of goals in enterprising. Even so, I had my qualms with this effort. The title was never really referenced within the story and the concept of being 'Number One' may have existed when interpreting the competing restaurants between the Duck House and the Glory - but this is never clearly defined as that sort of relationship. The characters were very shallow. The context for each character was never illuminated enough to justify and make sense of some of the decisions they made. For as much as Jimmy/Johnny's father was spoken about as the elephant in the room, and as much as his legacy casted a narrative arc over this story, we don't know much about him. The progression of the plot was much too abrupt and at the same time underwhelming. The plot really didn't take any twists or turns - Jimmy wanted the restaurant burned in order to establish his own legacy apart from his father's so I Chinese godfather figure with immunity came in to set up the fire and the deed was done. Nan & Ah-Jack's story felt like a parallel story that could have existed independent of the story as a whole. Personally, growing up with my parents in the restaurant business, I can attest that seeing their insurmountable flaws was easy. But as I grew up, their redeemable qualities began to wring out endlessly. I felt like NOCR attempted to justify and make sense of why our relationships with the 1st gen Chinese restaurant working parents may have been so poor, but failed to illuminate the very precious qualities that our 2nd gen eyes were not able to cherish. The redemption is certainly there and we just have to point our flashlights at it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tori (InToriLex)

    Actual Rating 3.5 Content Warning: Cancer, Alcoholism, Mental Illness, Organized Crime A refreshing view into the lives of people through their association with The Beijing Duck House and the people who run it. The book switches between three main point of views, Jimmy Han the owner of The Beijing Duck House, Nan the manager of the restaurant and Ah-Jack an aging waiter who is struggling to support his sick wife. The author does a great job of creating realistic characters that aren' Actual Rating 3.5 Content Warning: Cancer, Alcoholism, Mental Illness, Organized Crime A refreshing view into the lives of people through their association with The Beijing Duck House and the people who run it. The book switches between three main point of views, Jimmy Han the owner of The Beijing Duck House, Nan the manager of the restaurant and Ah-Jack an aging waiter who is struggling to support his sick wife. The author does a great job of creating realistic characters that aren't clearly good or bad. Jimmy is a selfish person who still cares deeply about the people around him, Nan is a overly devoted woman who puts herself last, and Ah- Jack is a self indulgent man who is coddled by his friendship with Nan. They don't all get along seamlessly but created a support system for each other. "They were all friends, if one defined friendship as the natural occurrence between people who, after colliding for decades, have finally eroded enough to fit together." This book is about people desperately trying to do what's best for themselves. All of the characters make questionable choices, throughout the book they have to face consequences for their misguided choices. This is a great character study that illustrates how hard it can be to exist in our realities while dreaming for something better. The Han family is strained by the deceased father's ways of keeping the restaurant going and resentments that have stewed against each other for decades. Pat, Nan's son and Annie, Jimmy's niece, are two rebellious teenagers who are in the sweet spot of adolescence where their own morality and limits seem fictional. They were as wise as most teenagers are. "What did these people want when they said they wanted nothing but her happiness? Nobody was without motive or desire." The characters and setting of this book kept me reading although I wanted the plot to move along faster. I was engaged the whole time, but thought the pacing and flow of the book could have been better. The ending left me with questions I wished were resolved, but did wrap up the main conflict. Overall this was a strong debut with diverse characters set in a place I wanted to learn more about. Recommended for readers who: - enjoy multi generational stories - want a character driven novel with flawed characters - can tolerate an ending that doesn't neatly close things up I received an advanced reader's copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    This is the first time while reading the longlist of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction that I am baffled by the inclusion of a book. While I have been struggling with many of the books, I could always see how the books would work for a different reader and see the purposeful way in which the books were structured and narrated. I did enjoy reading this book but I also found it distinctly average (my friend Rachel called it “aggressively mediocre” in her wonderful review, a phrase so perfect a This is the first time while reading the longlist of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction that I am baffled by the inclusion of a book. While I have been struggling with many of the books, I could always see how the books would work for a different reader and see the purposeful way in which the books were structured and narrated. I did enjoy reading this book but I also found it distinctly average (my friend Rachel called it “aggressively mediocre” in her wonderful review, a phrase so perfect a description for this book that I am unsure why I should even bother writing a review). Lillian Li follows a large cast of characters, all connected to the Duck House, a Chinese restaurant in the US that is as much the reason these people are connected as it is the centre of this novel. While I do think that books with a large cast can work exceedingly well, for me to appreciate them this large cast has to come with a particular kind of narrative voice. Here, Li attempted an intimate narration to imbue the action with an emotional heart, and I don’t think this ever came together. Scenes that should have been emotional did not work for me because I had not spent enough time with the characters to be properly invested. As such, they felt melodramatic and overwrought. The book is at its strongest when concentrating on familial relationships, be it Jimmy and Johnny, two brothers filled with both love and contempt for each other, who loath those characteristics in each other that they wish they had themselves, or Johnny and his daughter Annie, who love each other but have never found a way to properly communicate. But for me, the most compelling relationship was between Nan (a long time manager at the Duck House) and her son Pat. This relationship tugged at my heartstrings in a way none of the other narrative strands came even close to. Pat in particular reminded me of my little brother when he was 17 and angry at the world. The interactions of lost and confused and vicious Pat and his mother, who just does not know how to deal with her struggling and difficult son, felt honest and true in a way that made me wish for a book more tightly focussed on these two. I found the writing to be distinctly underwhelming safe for a few really wonderful sentences like this one: “It pained Nan to admit this, but he shouldn’t have bent under her hollow reassurances. She should’ve taught her son how to ask for more. The fact that he didn’t was what made him hers; they were genetic mirrors, with identical weak spots in their bones.” But for the most part the writing veered dramatically between matter-of-factness bordering on boring and overwritten melodrama (especially in the last 50 pages) in a way that I found disatisfying. You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    I wanted this to be so much more than it was. I was very excited about it. And then I was let down spectacularly.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    I didn't know much about this book before I started, but the little I knew ended up giving me a totally wrong impression. Yes, there's a lot in this book about family, the family you make, and the complicated lives of immigrants. But to me this is a book about dysfunctional families and insurance fraud, not quite what I expected. I connected with Li's writing right away, I liked her style and her voice. What I liked most about the novel was the descriptions, the moments, the backstories, all the I didn't know much about this book before I started, but the little I knew ended up giving me a totally wrong impression. Yes, there's a lot in this book about family, the family you make, and the complicated lives of immigrants. But to me this is a book about dysfunctional families and insurance fraud, not quite what I expected. I connected with Li's writing right away, I liked her style and her voice. What I liked most about the novel was the descriptions, the moments, the backstories, all the context she gave to the world she created. This is one of those books without any likable characters, another thing I wasn't expecting. I love books with unlikable characters, as long as I can feel invested in them and feel like they've become real to me. In this book, where the perspective frequently changes, I often didn't get to go as deep as I would have liked. Multiple perspectives and a tangled web of relationships are things I really enjoy, but here the shifting didn't quite feel right. Sections would be too short, the perspective would shift to replay a scene without offering much additional insight. But the biggest reason it's down to 3 stars for me despite its potential is that I felt like the book ended in almost the exact place it started. Without plot or character development to flesh out the story, I was left wanting more. I do want more from Li, though. I like her writing enough that it may just be a matter of finding a story that's the rirght fit for me as a reader.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This novel is a feast to me in many respects. First, it is full of psychological dramas in multiple main characters, not only about the conflicts in their minds as they act, but also including sketches of the psychological development in their lives. These owners and workers of the Chinese restaurant confess and tell their life stories, in addition to the restaurant scene as seen from a narrator. As a bonus a work scene of cooks of a non-Chinese restaurant is also depicted briefly but vividly. T This novel is a feast to me in many respects. First, it is full of psychological dramas in multiple main characters, not only about the conflicts in their minds as they act, but also including sketches of the psychological development in their lives. These owners and workers of the Chinese restaurant confess and tell their life stories, in addition to the restaurant scene as seen from a narrator. As a bonus a work scene of cooks of a non-Chinese restaurant is also depicted briefly but vividly. The second strong point to me is the portraiture of various relationships between teenagers and their parents, mature brothers, they and their mother, unusual lovers, they and they respective spouses, etc., most of them quite chilly in nature, but others bitter-sweet. On top of these two aspects, the book is peppered with philosophical wits and some streams of consciousness, both of which I like as well. Lastly, this novel is not lacking plots and suspension, although usually I myself am not particularly after. All these are crafted within less than 300 pages, quite amazingly.

  10. 4 out of 5

    ☆Dani☆ ☆Touch My Spine Book Reviews☆

    I liked this book but don't think this would be a story that I would read again. I like the cover and I like the characters but don't like how none of the characters really understand each other.and I feel there is too much going on at once. I worked at a Chinese Restaurant for years and I still felt that it was lacking something. The book was likable enough and I do feel that some will enjoy this very much so they could learn how things work in different cultures and the different communication I liked this book but don't think this would be a story that I would read again. I like the cover and I like the characters but don't like how none of the characters really understand each other.and I feel there is too much going on at once. I worked at a Chinese Restaurant for years and I still felt that it was lacking something. The book was likable enough and I do feel that some will enjoy this very much so they could learn how things work in different cultures and the different communication through the characters will be humorous at times and enjoyable. This may not be the title for me but I see a lot of potential in the story line and I am interested in checking out the author's other works.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    It took me such a long time to finish this book! There was nothing terribly wrong with it, but it was not memorable. My biggest issue is that there are too many characters in the book and most of them were underdeveloped so that they came across as caricature or stereotypes. The story mainly centers around a family that owns a Chinese restaurant that succumbs to fire. Unfortunately, the authors tries a little too hard to jazz it up instead of dealing with the intricate family dynamics more deftl It took me such a long time to finish this book! There was nothing terribly wrong with it, but it was not memorable. My biggest issue is that there are too many characters in the book and most of them were underdeveloped so that they came across as caricature or stereotypes. The story mainly centers around a family that owns a Chinese restaurant that succumbs to fire. Unfortunately, the authors tries a little too hard to jazz it up instead of dealing with the intricate family dynamics more deftly.

  12. 5 out of 5

    da AL

    Fun, as well as thoughtful. Li delves into what happens when the true nature of a restaurant is about bridging dreams within generations and cultures.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Although restaurants provide centerpieces of the novel, there are other invitations for potential life changing confrontations framed by the food, and the way in which that food is prepared and offered gives scenes immediacy as well as normalization of what could be explosive situations. This is true of almost every culture. Discordant exchanges are either enhanced or softened by the sharing of a meal, and Lillian Li slyly incorporates such practices throughout this deceptively light toned novel Although restaurants provide centerpieces of the novel, there are other invitations for potential life changing confrontations framed by the food, and the way in which that food is prepared and offered gives scenes immediacy as well as normalization of what could be explosive situations. This is true of almost every culture. Discordant exchanges are either enhanced or softened by the sharing of a meal, and Lillian Li slyly incorporates such practices throughout this deceptively light toned novel. Jimmy and Johnny Han are second generation owners of The Beijing Duck House, which was the realization of their father’s dream upon emigrating to Maryland. The two other main characters are their employees, Jack and Nan, who have known each other deeply for 30 years, but are brought together by circumstance and misunderstanding. Their story is propelled by the fate of the restaurant, and their acceptance of fate also contains elements of black comedy. As the story unfolds, the Hans and their employees are brought to life vividly, their complex lives illuminated, and this made me hungry for some Peking duck.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David

    You've got Jimmy Han, resenting the small and windowless Chinese restaurant his father once ran. Jimmy's partnered with a hustling real estate agent to sell his mother's home and open a fancier fusion joint downtown. But his mother thinks otherwise and his not-quite-Uncle Pang is making moves of his own that involve the son of one of Jimmy's long standing waitresses of 30 years who is trying to unravel the nature of her relationship with her aged, and also married, co-worker whose wife is struggl You've got Jimmy Han, resenting the small and windowless Chinese restaurant his father once ran. Jimmy's partnered with a hustling real estate agent to sell his mother's home and open a fancier fusion joint downtown. But his mother thinks otherwise and his not-quite-Uncle Pang is making moves of his own that involve the son of one of Jimmy's long standing waitresses of 30 years who is trying to unravel the nature of her relationship with her aged, and also married, co-worker whose wife is struggling with a cancer diagnosis. That's maybe 2/3rds of the actual plot points bandied about in this tragi-comedy about a uniquely American family and the swirling ecosystem of the Beijing Duck House. It's a lot to take in. Every town across North America has it's requisite Chinese restaurant that you barely think about as you sit down and order your General Tso's chicken on plastic covered tables with Asian zodiac placemats. Lillian Li lets us poke our head behind the kitchen doors and spy the generational toil and drama that fuels these establishments and shows how uniquely Asian-American these stories are.

  15. 5 out of 5

    James

    if you've read "tiger mom", "everything i never told you", and "crazy rich asians", THIS is the next book you HAVE to read Love how you see asian immigrants vs. their children born in america (both contained in the umbrella term "asian american" despite being so different) if you've read "tiger mom", "everything i never told you", and "crazy rich asians", THIS is the next book you HAVE to read Love how you see asian immigrants vs. their children born in america (both contained in the umbrella term "asian american" despite being so different)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Neale

    LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION. The narrative revolves around the Han family and friends, and the relationships that exist all under the roof of the family restaurant. The restaurant almost seems to take on a life of its own. A universe where all the characters dwell and face their personal problems. The problem for me, however, was that I never developed a connection with any of the myriad of characters that present themselves. Apart from one character, who only makes intermit LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION. The narrative revolves around the Han family and friends, and the relationships that exist all under the roof of the family restaurant. The restaurant almost seems to take on a life of its own. A universe where all the characters dwell and face their personal problems. The problem for me, however, was that I never developed a connection with any of the myriad of characters that present themselves. Apart from one character, who only makes intermittent appearances, the rest of the characters seem flat and one dimensional. Along with the narrative, they feel rushed. At times it feels as if the author is assuming that the reader knows parts of a character’s history that has not been told yet. Character development is a major problem. For me, this book had great potential that was never realised, which is a shame because Li writes extremely well and there is some great writing on show. For example, “She emphasized every word as others might slap a table. When she was allowed to talk without interruption, the effect was like waiting out a rainstorm under a tin roof.” This is only one example, and I did enjoy Li’s writing very much. This is her debut, and I am sure that Li is an author to keep an eye on.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    Thank you NetGalley for a digital advanced copy. Sadly, I did not like this book at all. I had considered DNF at 25 percent in but persisted. There was nothing about the main family to like at all. I don’t mind flawed characters, but I need to also like the characters and I did not. There were two secondary characters Nan and Jack, and Nan’s son that I had some empathy for their story. But all these characters were just sad and some of them mean. And there didn’t seem to be any resolution for mo Thank you NetGalley for a digital advanced copy. Sadly, I did not like this book at all. I had considered DNF at 25 percent in but persisted. There was nothing about the main family to like at all. I don’t mind flawed characters, but I need to also like the characters and I did not. There were two secondary characters Nan and Jack, and Nan’s son that I had some empathy for their story. But all these characters were just sad and some of them mean. And there didn’t seem to be any resolution for most of them. Giving this book a 2 may have even been too much.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chris W

    interesting analysis of the many roles of food and sharing meals together pushes the concept of what constitutes a "family" - definitely not your stereotypical or boring "love you no matter what" kind of family you see so often in american literature enjoyed seeing the dramatic business side of the industry, not just the food, as well fantastic read! consumed it in one sitting; couldn't stop myself interesting analysis of the many roles of food and sharing meals together pushes the concept of what constitutes a "family" - definitely not your stereotypical or boring "love you no matter what" kind of family you see so often in american literature enjoyed seeing the dramatic business side of the industry, not just the food, as well fantastic read! consumed it in one sitting; couldn't stop myself

  19. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Agitated. That’s how I felt reading Number One Chinese Restaurant. I felt agitated and unsettled throughout the entire book. The characters agitated me on almost every page, as they argued with and annoyed each other on a constant basis. This is the story of a Chinese family, the Hans, and the restaurant dynasty they’ve struggled to maintain for several decades. Alongside the Hans are their employees, friends, and business acquaintances, some of whom they’ve known since childhood. Jimmy Han, the Agitated. That’s how I felt reading Number One Chinese Restaurant. I felt agitated and unsettled throughout the entire book. The characters agitated me on almost every page, as they argued with and annoyed each other on a constant basis. This is the story of a Chinese family, the Hans, and the restaurant dynasty they’ve struggled to maintain for several decades. Alongside the Hans are their employees, friends, and business acquaintances, some of whom they’ve known since childhood. Jimmy Han, the younger son of the deceased restaurant founder, manages the day to day operations of the business. He is on the floor, barking orders, sometimes cooking, often yelling insults to those around him. He has plans of opening a second restaurant, the Beijing Glory – a more lavish, upscale version of what he considers his late father’s old-fashioned and outdated establishment, the Duck House. Jimmy’s dream causes him to plan a desperate act with the help of an old family acquaintance, a godfather-like “fixer.” Although he decides better of his idea, wheels are already set in motion, and the plan takes off without him, involving his niece and the teenage son of one of his loyal employees. The characters in the novel are tied intricately together through years and familial bonds, yet no one seems to like each other. Each character is pitted against the next in a never-ending swirl of insults, dislike and distrust – brother to brother, parent to child, lover to lover, spouse to spouse. I found this exhausting and couldn’t bring myself to like even one character in the story. Their incessant anger, disillusionment, and disappointment in life was ultimately so depressing that I couldn’t wait for the story to end. I persevered, however, as I really wanted to know how everything played out in the end. The book itself was well-written, although I was consistently taken aback by the author switching perspectives and settings without warning in the middle of a chapter. I finally got used to this, although it was another reason to feel unsettled throughout the book. Maybe that was the author’s intent. If so, it worked. More agitation. A 3 star rating, and this only because I did have enough interest in the storyline to follow it through to the end. Many thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt and Co. for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    Bobby Han’s The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, has a dwindling core of dedicated customers. It was once a place where presidents and celebrities dined, but Bobby's death left the restaurant caught between his two sons, Johnny the manager, and ambitious Jimmy. Jimmy wants to open an upscale Asian fusion restaurant where he'd never again have to serve those repulsive old Chinese dishes. But to make the dream come true, he has to look outside the law to a family connection “fixer”—withou Bobby Han’s The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, has a dwindling core of dedicated customers. It was once a place where presidents and celebrities dined, but Bobby's death left the restaurant caught between his two sons, Johnny the manager, and ambitious Jimmy. Jimmy wants to open an upscale Asian fusion restaurant where he'd never again have to serve those repulsive old Chinese dishes. But to make the dream come true, he has to look outside the law to a family connection “fixer”—without considering that fixers get where they are by making certain they get at least as much as they give. Or Else. Tragedy strikes, hitting everyone differently, in particular middle-aged, longtime employees Nan and Ah-Jack, who have maintained a friendship that borders on the heat of something else for thirty years. Complicating it is Ah-Jack’s ill wife, and Nan’s troubled teenage son. She illustrates with sometimes merciless clarity now not only a language barrier can keep family members of different generations from ever truly communicating (while successfully causing irritation, grief, and self-protective lies) but cultural differences. The book is so vivid, complex, and full of insight, but the storyline was such a downer, and many of the characters difficult to connect to. I can’t say I enjoyed the reading experience, except on an intellectual level—admiring the craft with which it was written as well as observing those disastrous mismatches in communication. But a story built around unhappy toil and dysfunction is a very hard sell for me. If you are good with those aspects, I recommend this novel. Copy provided by NetGalley

  21. 5 out of 5

    ❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀

    3.5 Stars It’s taken me a while to write this review because although I thought the book was well written and perceptive, it was also painful to read. Characters struggle with addiction, toxic family members, ungrateful children and unrequited love. It’s hard to get through so many misunderstandings, unspoken emotions, and unfulfilled dreams. The strong point with this one is it’s well drawn characters and their true to life emotional reactions. Although I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I would 3.5 Stars It’s taken me a while to write this review because although I thought the book was well written and perceptive, it was also painful to read. Characters struggle with addiction, toxic family members, ungrateful children and unrequited love. It’s hard to get through so many misunderstandings, unspoken emotions, and unfulfilled dreams. The strong point with this one is it’s well drawn characters and their true to life emotional reactions. Although I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I would have liked, in this case, this is totally on me as it’s beautifully written. Thank you to NetGalley and the author for a copy of the book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Janelle Janson

    Many thanks to Henry Holt for providing my free copy of NUMBER ONE CHINESE RESTAURANT by Lillian Li - all opinions are my own. I’m not going to lie...the cover totally got me on this one. And oh my goodness, THE FOOD. I immediately ate tons of Chinese food after finishing this book. Set in Rockville, Maryland in the Washington DC area, the Beijing Duck House was made famous by Jimmy’s late father, Bobby Han, but Jimmy hasn’t been too interested in running the restaurant as he has own ambitions - Many thanks to Henry Holt for providing my free copy of NUMBER ONE CHINESE RESTAURANT by Lillian Li - all opinions are my own. I’m not going to lie...the cover totally got me on this one. And oh my goodness, THE FOOD. I immediately ate tons of Chinese food after finishing this book. Set in Rockville, Maryland in the Washington DC area, the Beijing Duck House was made famous by Jimmy’s late father, Bobby Han, but Jimmy hasn’t been too interested in running the restaurant as he has own ambitions - he wants to open a more modern restaurant as he is so tired of the old ways. The Beijing Duck House was once a favorite among politicians and celebrities, but since Bobby passed away, it has been caught up in a struggle between his sons, Jimmy, who’s impulsive and a bit selfish and Johnny, who’s more disciplined and willing to keep the 30 year legacy alive. When tragedy strikes, it’s quite possible Jimmy might be able to take advantage, but it could upend the lives of everyone around him. This multigenerational debut is told from many sides but with Beijing Duck House right in the center of it all, equipped with loads of drama and relationship dynamics - I loved every bit of it. The story alternates, and is mainly viewed through three perspectives: the restaurant’s owner, Jimmy Han, Nan, the manager, and Ah-Jack who is the elderly server. This is very much a character-driven novel that moves at a slower pace but is well-crafted and each distinct voice shines. Li does an excellent job writing such relatable, authentic characters as they are flawed and make questionable choices but you can also empathize with each of them. I was captivated by this melodrama as it explores relationships between business partners, teens and parents, brothers, spouses, coworkers, mothers and sons, and even unlikely romantic interests. I loved the underlying theme of identity, whether that’s finding yourself or keeping the old family traditions alive. The descriptions are vivid as the setting and characters come alive on the page. The story is filled with so much heart and there’s a bit of fun and dark humor! Li is a gifted writer and I’m so excited for what comes next!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    I read this book due to its shortlisting for the 2019 Women’s Prize – and its one which I feel fits into the Women’s Prize tradition of having Book Club friendly books on the longlist as a way to draw in those same readers to the more experimental books which often go on to form the shortlist, and sometimes the winners. This is a character driven novel, exploring the lives of a small group of characters associated with a fictional Maryland based restaurant “The Beijing Duck House”. The restauran I read this book due to its shortlisting for the 2019 Women’s Prize – and its one which I feel fits into the Women’s Prize tradition of having Book Club friendly books on the longlist as a way to draw in those same readers to the more experimental books which often go on to form the shortlist, and sometimes the winners. This is a character driven novel, exploring the lives of a small group of characters associated with a fictional Maryland based restaurant “The Beijing Duck House”. The restaurant was founded by a first generation Chinese immigrant Bobby Han, with considerable help from his wife Feng Fei (who later moved across from China with their two young children Johnny and Jimmy to join them), and, via her, from a shadowy family friend, possible gangster, Uncle Pang. Famous for its eponymous dish, it at one stage attracted politicians and celebrities and made the family fortune, giving Bobby and Feng Fei a luxurious mansion, but also providing employment and financial stability for its long serving and hard working employees (and their children). Now, Bobby is several years dead, Feng Fei is the family matriarch, and the restaurant has been run by Johnny (front of house and external relationships) and Jimmy (back of house and staff relationships). Other key characters are two of the most senior employees – Nan (divorced with an increasingly rebellious teenage son Pat – recently expelled from school for arson and now working at the restaurant where he is attracted to Johnny’s daughter Annie) and the older Ah-Jack (increasingly struggling with the demands of work but needing employment to support the medical bills for his cancer-struck wife). Much of this book is effectively a character study of this key group (and Uncle Pang’s real estate advisor). Interestingly the author has commented that, although the book underwent many revisions (from its initial conception as a short story) the group of protagonists (and their essential characteristics) made it unchanged from the first draft. They are clearly characters that resonate with the author – but I could not help feeling that the characters were much more real to the author than they were to this reader. I did however appreciate the rounding of each character – almost all of them have redeeming features alongside flaws and failures. The author has also commented that some of the advice she received on early drafts was that a novel needs to take characters out of their routine – and the dramatic tension that she brings in at the novel’s opening is a decision by Jimmy (aided by Johnny being absent on a long term trip to Hong Kong) to fulfill a long term ambition (since he was a sous-chef in another restaurant, losing his job for drug dealing) to open a fusion restaurant in a trendier area). He has asked Uncle Pang for help – believing the latter is finding an investor to buy the Beijing Duck, but instead Uncle Pang reveals that his aim is to arrange for an insurance-fraud arson on the restaurant (the same tactic he hatched with Feng Fei to get rid of Bobby’s failing first restaurant) – something which Jimmy angrily rejects. The book then follows the subsequent events including the opening of the new restaurant. The author has said she was motivated by a month working in a Chinese restaurant and the way in which the staff have to suppress their natural characters and external lives for 12 hours a day to conform to the demands and stereotyping of their customers – and that she wanted to explore these lives. She has also said that she wanted to write a story of immigrants – where their issues and challenges were not due to racism experienced but to their own decisions. Overall I found this an interesting concept but one which did not quite work for me – just as the characters never came alive for me in the same way as they seemed to for the author, I could not really gain interest in the plot tensions – and this is very much a book of character and plot tension. And by extension I am less convinced than for “American Marriage” that this would make a good book for a book group (particularly a UK one), with neither book matching the appeal for that audience of last year’s “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” or even “Three Things About Elsie”.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    I’m feeling slightly too underwhelmed to write a review of this sadly. It wasn’t for me and I found myself feeling bored which I never feel with fiction and I’m not sure where this went so wrong for me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ming

    Thanks to Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for this advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. Its general description is amply available on GoodReads, on Amazon and elsewhere. I truly enjoyed this book. Initially, I had some reservations that it would be another immigrant tale populated by immigrants fumbling along to achieve “the” American dream. Instead, it’s about dreams and hopes and how they change you by having them. The story quickly drew me into the lives of a Chinese resta Thanks to Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for this advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. Its general description is amply available on GoodReads, on Amazon and elsewhere. I truly enjoyed this book. Initially, I had some reservations that it would be another immigrant tale populated by immigrants fumbling along to achieve “the” American dream. Instead, it’s about dreams and hopes and how they change you by having them. The story quickly drew me into the lives of a Chinese restaurant owner as well as his family and a few of his employees. I appreciated how, at the beginning, Jimmy disdained the business his father had established but later, his feelings changed when he opened his own restaurant. This evolution was subtle but credible and affecting. Various gems included the scenes when a young Jimmy starts an apprenticeship at Koi, a high-end restaurant. His euphoria from being in the rhythm, chaos and beauty of the kitchen is palpable. This high set into motion a powerful longing. His attempt to recapture that experience, that alignment of passion and purpose, propelled the story to the book’s conclusion. Along the way, we meet two restaurant employees, Nan and Ah-Jack, whose relationship was complex and importantly, compelling. These co-workers spend a lot of time together and develop a dynamic, an almost co-dependent one, that reveals its limitations and strengths as they follow Jimmy to his new business. This parallel story grounded the book, providing a somber but mature contrast to the soap opera antics of Jimmy and his family. I’ll note two things here. One, this book is rare because the Asian male characters have sex. And more than one Asian man does so. I’m not being flippant. It’s a sad reality that Asian men are emasculated and/or diminished, especially in American white society and too often by female Asian authors (e.g., A. Tan). And two, I cannot understand or accept how grown people hold on to children’s names, e.g., Johnny, Bobby, etc. It is worse when the adults are people of color. And way worst, when the men, as a category, had often been referred to as “boy.” In contrast, the white waiter in this book is named and called “Tom.”

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fey Fan

    beautiful moments of poetry so well inserted into each chapter I found myself re-reading entire paragraphs over and over just to make sure I fully-appreciated the full effect of Lillian Li's words; no idea how she manages to be so subtle yet so powerful, but she does it well the multi-faceted storyline also has plenty to be enjoyed for the more casual readers as well! beautiful moments of poetry so well inserted into each chapter I found myself re-reading entire paragraphs over and over just to make sure I fully-appreciated the full effect of Lillian Li's words; no idea how she manages to be so subtle yet so powerful, but she does it well the multi-faceted storyline also has plenty to be enjoyed for the more casual readers as well!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Travel.with.a.book

    I'm so happy to finish this amazing psychological drama, I really want to thank the publishers Henry Holt Books and the Author Lillian Li for writing such an epic novel! . The sorting of the family was really well written, I really enjoyed the family working in the restaurant it amazed me in every aspect! It's true that we are humans and we are not supposed to absorb every feeling that comes through our life but I wanted to capture everything the author meant to do for the characters and that feeli I'm so happy to finish this amazing psychological drama, I really want to thank the publishers Henry Holt Books and the Author Lillian Li for writing such an epic novel! . The sorting of the family was really well written, I really enjoyed the family working in the restaurant it amazed me in every aspect! It's true that we are humans and we are not supposed to absorb every feeling that comes through our life but I wanted to capture everything the author meant to do for the characters and that feeling of absorbing and understanding such a powerful book is the best feeling in the world. The novel describes a very interesting life of immigrants and their complicated lives! Li's writing is very unique which makes her a very talented and professional Author, she has created a very delight style that it really can attract the reader's mind! . Jimmy and Johny Han are second generation owners of the Beijing Duck House, the restaurant was a achievement of their father's dream, there is also and two other main characters Jack and Nan their employees, it really has great twists within the novel, the loads of drama and the grim humor are so deep connected, I really enjoyed the story between Jack and Nan as they know each other for a long time! . Li has created a brilliant novel with a slow pace going in very mixed and difficult emotions, you must read how beautiful she has connected each story and act of her novel it folds in the best way it could! NUMBER ONE CHINESE RESTAURANT explores and different kind of relationships which makes it very interesting to read, you'll fall in love with the care of the characters with each other the love and the joy! . Li is a very special Author to me, reading this great novel has made me realize to read more novels from her so now I'm so excited for her next novels! This is a definitely my favourite novel that I've read this month and I highly recommend you to grab a copy to devour Li's amazing writings!

  28. 4 out of 5

    ns510

    3.5 stars. This book read like a Chinese serial. All the drama and soap opera-esque antics set within a Chinese family restaurant in the US, complete with a Godfather-like peripheral figure no one likes but everyone fears. Amidst all this is a more nuanced depiction of what it means to be a family, a dynasty, to be immigrants, and the stories we tell the world about ourselves. I liked how it showed the different ways one can be Chinese American/American Chinese across the generations. I tend to e 3.5 stars. This book read like a Chinese serial. All the drama and soap opera-esque antics set within a Chinese family restaurant in the US, complete with a Godfather-like peripheral figure no one likes but everyone fears. Amidst all this is a more nuanced depiction of what it means to be a family, a dynasty, to be immigrants, and the stories we tell the world about ourselves. I liked how it showed the different ways one can be Chinese American/American Chinese across the generations. I tend to enjoy books about people and relationships, the more flawed and human the characters the better. So I was expecting to really enjoy this, but something felt like it was missing. While I enjoyed this, I didn’t love it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jee Hooked On Bookz

    Expect family drama, complex characters and relationships, love, betrayals, sibling rivalries, and power struggles. This novel is what you'd get from a Chinese drama, featuring a wealthy business family. If only my mom loves reading as much as I do, I'd definitely recommend this to her! Restaurant setting and delicious Chinese food aside, what I enjoyed most about this book are the dialogue, the dark humor and definitely the character portrayals. Li got under their skin and captured them so brill Expect family drama, complex characters and relationships, love, betrayals, sibling rivalries, and power struggles. This novel is what you'd get from a Chinese drama, featuring a wealthy business family. If only my mom loves reading as much as I do, I'd definitely recommend this to her! Restaurant setting and delicious Chinese food aside, what I enjoyed most about this book are the dialogue, the dark humor and definitely the character portrayals. Li got under their skin and captured them so brilliantly. If you want to catch a glimpse of our Chinese culture, relationships and families, do give Li's debut a try! :) Full review on my blog: https://hookedonbookzblog.wordpress.c...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    Wow, this book really makes you feel . The characters are complex and all have a myriad of personalities. The language is so creative and expressive. The pain the characters feel, whether physical or emotional, isn't just an abstract concept in this book. Through Li's painstakingly honest descriptions, my heart genuinely felt pain and anger for each character. The concepts of love and family are also thoroughly explored in this novel through the relationships the characters have. In this book, Wow, this book really makes you feel . The characters are complex and all have a myriad of personalities. The language is so creative and expressive. The pain the characters feel, whether physical or emotional, isn't just an abstract concept in this book. Through Li's painstakingly honest descriptions, my heart genuinely felt pain and anger for each character. The concepts of love and family are also thoroughly explored in this novel through the relationships the characters have. In this book, love and family aren't just cheesy sappy things filled with rainbows and sunshine, they're tears and sorrow and tough decisions too.

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