Debut novelist Lillian Li pulls open the kitchen doors of a Chinese American family's restaurant, revealing the devoted if dysfunctional relationships of its owners and staff.
Jimmy Han aspires to own a higher-class establishment than the Beijing Duck House, a classic Chinese restaurant founded by his now-deceased father in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Before his new restaurant, the Beijing Glory, can be "as polished as the silver chopsticks he'd already bulk-ordered," though, Jimmy needs a cash infusion.
Hoping for help finding investors, he turns to longtime family "friend" and fixer Uncle Pang, who would prefer to burn down the Duck House for an insurance payout. Unwilling to go so far, Jimmy unwisely snubs Pang and decides to sell his parents' mansion instead. However, his tough mother, Feng Fei, still lives there and won't let it go without a fight. As the Glory's opening nears, the uproar in the lives of the Duck House family builds to a fever pitch sure to break more than a few dishes.
Li's portrayal of life in the restaurant business feels like an insider account of the challenging industry, with plenty of detail about the physical and mental rigor it demands. Though lightened with comedic moments, the quiet tragedy of familial resentment lies at the heart of the story. A smart combination of Chinese American life, service industry travails and the ups and downs of belonging to a family, Number One Chinese Restaurant will make great discussion fare for book clubs. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads