cover image Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant: A Memoir

Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant: A Memoir

Curtis Chin. Little, Brown, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316507-65-3

Chin, a cofounder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, debuts with a captivating account of growing up gay and Chinese in 1980s Detroit. After immigrating to the U.S., Chin’s paternal grandfather opened Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine in the city in 1940, and his descendants continued operating the restaurant until 2000. In sections organized like a Chinese dinner (“The Tea,” “Main Entrée,” etc.), Chin illuminates the ways that Chung’s provided solace to his family and other local misfits: “It was one of the rare places in the segregated city where everyone felt welcome. Black or white, rich or poor, Christian or Jewish—the restaurant took anyone’s money.” In vivid and moving vignettes, Chin writes of drawing strength from meals at Chung’s after his family moved to the suburbs and faced racism from their white neighbors, and of queer patrons from a nearby drag bar helping him realize as a closeted teenager that “being gay wasn’t a death sentence.” He closes the book with his final meal at Chung’s before moving to New York City in his early 20s, observing that his time at the restaurant “taught me that life was full of endless possibilities. I only had to try new recipes.” In lucid, empathetic prose, Chin mounts an elegy for a now closed community center that doubles as a message of compassion to his former self. Readers will be moved. Agents: Sonali Chanchani and Erin Harris, Folio Literary. (Oct.)