A Chinese eatery is a prism for intergenerational love and loss in Lillian Li’s stirring fictional debut

Every life can be defined by two great love stories, says philosopher Alain de Botton. The first, the quest for sexual love, is the staple of music and literature. “The second—the story of our quest for love from the world—is a more secret and shameful tale, yet this second love story is no less intense than the first. There is heartbreak here too.”

Lillian Li’s debut novel Number One Chinese Restaurant is just such a carefully woven brocade of love, near and missed—the quiet and caustic simmering of dreams alongside hot and sour soup.

In the first few pages, the stage is set: In the belly of the red-draped Beijing Duck House in Maryland, owner Jimmy Han adjusts his false curtains. “He made sure the fabric still hid the blank wall behind. People preferred to believe in windows they couldn’t see.” The remaining pages gaze into each character’s quest, palms pressed against the various windows into their lives—some opening, some shutting, others pure fantasy.

This is subscriber exclusive content

Become a subscriber to continue reading

Number One Love is a story from our issue, “Wild Rides.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Tina Xu (徐盈盈)

Tina Xu is the former culture editor at The World of Chinese. She writes across film, literature, and society, spanning from indie documentaries to diaspora communities. Her stories for TWOC received the 2021 SOPA Award for Excellence in Regional Reporting on the Environment, and were finalists in Women’s Issues and Photography.

Related Articles