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Midnight At the Dragon Cafe
Cover of Midnight At the Dragon Cafe
Midnight At the Dragon Cafe
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Set in the 1960s, Judy Fong Bates's much-talked-about debut novel is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town's solitary Chinese family, whose life is changed over the course of...
Set in the 1960s, Judy Fong Bates's much-talked-about debut novel is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town's solitary Chinese family, whose life is changed over the course of...
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Description-

  • Set in the 1960s, Judy Fong Bates's much-talked-about debut novel is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town's solitary Chinese family, whose life is changed over the course of one summer when she learns the burden of secrets. Through Su-Jen's eyes, the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Café unfolds. As Su-Jen's father works continually for a better future, her mother, a beautiful but embittered woman, settles uneasily into their new life. Su-Jen feels the weight of her mother's unhappiness as Su-Jen's life takes her outside the restaurant and far from the customs of the traditional past. When Su-Jen's half-brother arrives, smouldering under the responsibilities he must bear as the dutiful Chinese son, he forms an alliance with Su-Jen's mother, one that will have devastating consequences. Written in spare, intimate prose, Midnight at the Dragon Café is a vivid portrait of a childhood divided by two cultures and touched by unfulfilled longings and unspoken secrets.

    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-

  • Chapter One

    The other two books are from China, handwritten with red cloth covers, bound with red string. One book is thick with pages of line drawings of Buddha­shaped faces, dotted with moles. A mole in a certain place on a cheek might be lucky, my mother once told me, but in the same place on the other cheek could spell a life of tragedy and pain. In the rows of faces, the noses, eyes, lips, and ears are drawn in different shapes. Long, fleshy earlobes mean longevity and wealth; thin lips mean poverty. Whenever Chinese visitors came to our restaurant, I would catch my mother secretly studying their faces. Once, there was a Chinese man who passed through our town and had supper with us. He kept trying to engage my mother in conversation, but she took an instant dislike to him. Afterwards she said, "Syah how, sei gnun, that's what he is. A serpent head with dung­filled eyes." His narrow eyes were shaped in an evil way, she told me, a bad person, not to be trusted. Later we found out the man was a notorious gambler and womanizer in Chinatown in Toronto. Sometimes her face readings were more direct. "That man, he has ears that are too small and thin. No matter how hard he works, he won't amount to anything." She once said to me about my grown­up brother, "The shape of his face and nose are strong. He will eventually be rich, but he will always have to work hard. His mouth is too full. He wants so much, yet nothing in the first half of his life will be easy."

    The second book from China, though it looks similar on the outside, holds other secrets. It holds the story of my life, my destiny. Before leaving Hong Kong, my mother took me to a fortune teller to have my I Ching read and my fate revealed. I have no memory of what the fortune teller looked like, only of watching his long, slender hands lay out narrow sticks of different lengths. The smell of incense had filled the air. My mother paid a handsome price for the book. Each page was filled with black hand­brushed characters, on the front was a single column of elegant black calligraphy. The characters held such power and mystery, all the more so because I could not read them. When I touch the pages, I can almost sense the heat of the fortune teller's hand moving down the rice paper with the bamboo­handled brush in his fingers. As a child, I often found myself with the book upside down, turning the pages backwards; I had to remind myself to open it left to right, opposite to the way I opened books at school.

    Whenever I asked my mother what was written inside, she seemed to hesitate. Her unwillingness made me uneasy. She told me that I would live in more than one country. She told me that until the age of thirteen, water would be my danger sign, that I was never to trust it. I would beg her for greater details about my future, but she would only shake her head and say there was nothing else in the book that mattered.


  • 1957

    Several months before my mother and I came to Canada, my father, Hing-Wun Chou, and his oldest friend, Doon­Yat Lim, bought the Dragon Café in the town of Irvine, not far from Toronto. They considered it a good buy, as it was already a Chinese restaurant, with woks in the kitchen and a rectangular sign with gold Chinese-style script above the front window. But most important for them, an enterprise in a town the size of Irvine cost less money than one in a bigger place. At the time I didn't realize that my father's business was typical of so many Chinese restaurants in small towns across Canada, often known as the local greasy spoon, every one of them a lonely family business isolated from the community it...

About the Author-

  • Judy Fong Bates came to Canada from China as a young girl and grew up in several small Ontario towns. She is the author of a collection of short stories, China Dog, and a novel, Midnight at the Dragon Café. Her stories have been broadcast on CBC Radio and published in literary journals and anthologies.
    Judy Fong Bates lives in Toronto.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 7, 2005
    In this deeply affecting debut novel by the author of the short story collection China Dog
    , intrepid Su-Jen Chou, the only daughter of parents who flee Communist China in the 1950s to become proprietors of a Chinese restaurant in an isolated Ontario town, watches as her family unravels. In Irvine, it is "so quiet you can hear the dead," and Su-Jen's mother, Jing, beautiful and bitter, laments her imprisonment in an unfamiliar country. To Jing's chagrin, Su-Jen's father, Hing-Wun, much older than his wife, believes in the traditional method for obtaining wealth: endless hard work. When Su-Jen's handsome older half-brother, Lee-Kung, comes to live with the family and help out in the restaurant, Su-Jen is happy, but soon she notices her mother and Lee-Kung exchanging veiled glances and realizes they're keeping some dangerous secret. Increasingly, Su-Jen finds herself caught between her parents, who have "settled into an uneasy and distant relationship... their love, their tenderness, they give to their daughter." She seeks relief in books and in the Chinese tales her father loves to tell, but the trouble festering comes to a head when a mail-order bride arrives for her brother. Bates conveys with pathos and generosity the anger, disappointment, vulnerability and pride of people struggling to balance duty and passion. Agent, Denise Bukowski.

  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "A heartbreaking but muted love story... Deeply satisfying: a lovely sensuality pervades in spite of the harshness of the world Bates portrays so eloquently."

  • Winnipeg Free Pres "A fascinating and finely crafted work of fiction.... Compelling.... Absorbing and alluring ..."
  • Shyam Selvadurai "In Midnight at the Dragon Café, Judy Fong Bates has created a novel that does what the very best fiction can do -- take us into a world we could not have otherwise entered, put us among people we could not otherwise know. As quintessentially Canadian as Alice Munro, and equally delightful to read."
  • London Free Press "Wonderfully written and acutely observed, Midnight at the Dragon Café is a haunting novel.... As skilled and original as it is moving."
  • Calgary Herald "A unique and imaginative drama.... Bates's writing is smooth and simple, but powerful."
  • Quill & Quire "A terrific page-turner of a first novel...."
  • Edmonton Journal "Judy Fong Bates is an accomplished storyteller.... The tragic events that form the plot of this novel are in no way restricted to the Chinese experience. Betrayal, human frailty, lost hopes, and shattered dreams belong to all of us.... The quintessential good read."
  • National Post "Judy Fong Bates slips us past the front counter into the inner life of the Dragon Café, as if we lived there too..... Her attention to physical detail is matched by compassionate understanding, which gives real weight to the telling of the submerged, drowning passion hidden in this household."
  • Vancouver Sun "[Judy Fong Bates] has transmuted her experience into fiction that says something essential and makes wonderful reading.... [She] has been compared with Alice Munro because of her controlled prose and the currents of feeling that seethe beneath the surface of her fictional Ontario town."
  • Chatelaine "An elegant first novel."
  • Globe and Mail "A work that often reads like the best finely crafted memoir.... If you think of the first-person narratives of Who Has Seen the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird on the fiction side, and the memoirs Angela's Ashes and The Way of a Boy, you'll have something of an idea of the goals for character growth Fong Bates has set for herself."
  • Calgary Sun "An impressive debut."

Title Information+

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    McClelland & Stewart
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