Review of 'Number One Chinese Restaurant'

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

number_one_chinese_restaurant.jpg Jimmy Han owns and operates his family's restaurant the “Duck House” with staff that have been with him for years. Jimmy is in the process of opening a new restaurant, hoping to shrug free from the yoke of familial expectations, taking out a loan from Uncle Pang, a local mobster. When Jimmy tries to pay off Peng, the mobster resolves to teach him a lesson. Ah-Jack and Nan have a banter that fills their working days with laughter. Is it more than just friendship despite each being married to others? Nan's son Pat resents working in the restaurant though is attracted to Annie, daughter of Jimmy's more even-headed brother Johnny who is in Hong Kong. Goaded by Uncle Pang, Pat and Annie set fire to the “Duck House” which burns to the ground. Johnny immediately returns to the US to take command of the situation while Jimmy takes the opportunity to open his new restaurant early using the staff of the “Duck House” but will he achieve is goal of independence or will it just be the same life in a different area of town?

A dramatic but believable story of familial responsibility and tensions in the lives of various Chinese families making a living by working in a Chinese restaurant in the US. The characters here are torn between this responsibility and wanting to make their own mark on the world. “Number One Chinese Restaurant” has the dramatic arson attack feature but the story is otherwise one of people simply trying to survive in the best way they know how. I can't say any of the characters are particularly likeable other than old rogue Ah-Jack who under the surface of his fun and joyful character is, deep down, very lonely. Indeed, most of the characters here are, despite their living and work situation, very lonely and simply trying to find companionship. In this respect the book is very melancholy, making it clear there are no easy solutions and many massive pitfalls.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” is an easy read but has a story that draws you into it's real-life mini-dramas and has you feel pain of the characters as they struggle to find happiness and satisfaction. Don't expect any easy answers here.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2022-01-15

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: ONE

Publication Date: 2018

ISBN: 9781911590095