Updated: May 17, 2019
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.
Lillian Li is a graduate from the University of Michigan's Helen Zell Writers' Program, where she received her MFA in fiction. Her first novel is forthcoming from Henry Holt (Macmillan) in 2018. Her work has appeared in Granta, Guernica, Glimmer Train, and Jezebel. She writes for the Michigan Quarterly Review. Currently, she lives in Ann Arbor, teaching at the University of Michigan, and slinging books at Literati Bookstore. Visit her website for more info.
There is an interview with Li at Brazo's Bookstore here - https://www.brazosbookstore.com/articles/features/thu-interviews-lillian-li-author-number-one-chinese-restaurant