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Midnight at the Dragon Cafe

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,052 Ratings  ·  178 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published December 23rd 2003 by McClelland & Stewart (first published 2003)
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Dec 09, 2008 Shane rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I very much wanted to like this book and thought I would, but I found the story hollow and predictable, the characters surprisingly flat, maybe because the narrator is a child. It could have been a lovely story, but to me it wasn't. And overall it was very melancholy.
Feb 01, 2015 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like fast-paced, plot-driven books, this is not the book for you. If you like slow character development and stories that are true to life, you'll enjoy Midnight at the Dragon Cafe. A coming of age novel set in Canada, this novel explores the ups and mostly downs of being the only English-speaking member of the only Chinese family in a small American town. (and by America, I mean North America) Judy Fong Bates sets up a story of friendly love, forbidden passion, secrets and lies with a sl ...more
Aug 30, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya-lit, 2010
This novel feels a lot like a memoir but has a few shortcomings. The narrative traces the life of a young immigrant girl from China to Canada. Her family runs a greasy spoon cafe in a small town while they struggle to find themselves and build a new life. Annie doesn't seem particularly reflective, which is where the memoir feel is lost. I love memoirs because they impart a larger life lesson or show how the author found his or her way; this novel lacks that larger message.
Jan 01, 2009 Mabeo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great-fiction
This was a tough one. I liked it but it wasn't really a book, it was a story. A sad story that sort of trailed off at the end without an end that I really felt good about. In fact, it read like a story written about someone's past, a past which they were still kind of bitter about. So, was it an interesting look at what it was like to be Chinese in a frontier town in the 50s? Yes. Other than that, I kept waiting to see what the point of the book was!
Feb 18, 2014 Maryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is a lovely layering of childhood alliances, allegiances and tragedy. Told through the eyes of a child we experience the joys and stuggles of an immigrant Chinese family running a restaurant in small town Ontario. They endure isolation and racism with admirable determination. Those who were too old for education work hard to continue the business while making the sacrifices required so the narrator can get an education and be free of the drudgery. Love, passion, dignity, fate and trad ...more
Neil Mudde
Wow, I am blown away by this story, I am just past the half way mark, so far sooo great!

February 16th just finished reading the book, it is pretty awesome, I never want to give away the content of the story, however it holds all sorts of twists and turns
Canada has thousands of small towns, each one having a Chinese Restaurant, this book will give you some insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the life of a family which owns one of these restaurants.
Having immigrated to Canada I can rela
I really enjoyed the cultural aspects of this book. Sometimes I felt like there was so much going on behind the scenes, in the dialogue, I almost needed a translation as to what was actually occurring. Nonetheless, it was an interesting topic, exploring the family dynamic when the family itself seems to be made up of two different cultures. I see why Multnomah County decided to make it the Everybody Reads book.

However, I felt like the end seemed rushed - almost as if it were a separate book tha
Julie James
May 23, 2012 Julie James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chosen as the 'Toronto One' book for a good reason. I couldn't put it down and hated to finish it. Now what shall I read?

Postscript: Since I was so impressed with Judy Fong Bates' novel "Midnight at the Dragon Cafe", I decided to read her autobiographical novel "The Year of Finding Memory" about her personal history and literal journey to China to better understand her parents and family history. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in family history
Morgan Dhu
Jan 02, 2015 Morgan Dhu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Talking about her debut novel, Midnight in the Dragon Cafe, Judy Bates Fong recalls a cross-Canada road trup she took while young.

"During that long ago car trip I was inspired by the immensity of this country, its beauty and varied landscape. Yet there was one constant that made an impression on me then and stays with me today. Almost without fail, every small town we drove through had a local Chinese restaurant, and I knew, much like my family, the people who ran these restaurants would be sepa
Feb 10, 2008 Pam rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 16, 2008 Gretchen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults
Recommended to Gretchen by: Da-Jong
I read this book to help our exchange student with her homework. She had to read it for school. It is an intersting book. I would like to know how much of it is true in the authors life or in the lifes of those she knew growing up as a Chinese born Canadian. I reading it, but it reminded me that every family has hidden secrets and there is no perfect family. We all struggle in this game called life.
Nov 03, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
This book started off strong, and there are moments of awkwardness with Annie that are spot on with young girls. I also liked the mountain of unspoken communication, which happens with most families. But as the story progresses it becomes stranger and less realistic. The last section of the book sort of drops off from making hard choices. Unfortunately, the book ends with a whimper.
Aug 15, 2009 Iva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A family comes to Canada from Communist China in the late 1950's. They own a Chinese restaurant in rural Ontario that consumes them. Su-Jen Chou tells her story--her life as the only Chinese girl in her high school-- in this deeply affecting coming-of-age novel of family secrets. A memorable, well-told story that reads like a memoir.
May 08, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Judy Fong Bates does a masterful job of drawing the reader into the world of her heroine. The reader feels the tense atmosphere at the cafe when Su Jen's world is turned upside down. I could not pull myself away from this book.
Diane Anderson
Feb 17, 2016 Diane Anderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seems many small towns in Ontario, and elsewhere, have mom 'n' pop cafes [or convenience stores] run by hard-working immigrant families, so it was easy to picture the tableau for this novel, in my minds' eye. Mom and dad working , kids playing , doing homework, or helping out in the cafe/store with it's living quarters upstairs or in the back.
This story was almost hypnotic in it's "normalcy", without being normal, and I found it hard to put down.
My one complaint is the chronic use of the word "h
Rebecca Kenny
Aug 19, 2014 Rebecca Kenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. It was an honest portrayal of a Chinese family coming to Canada to have a better life. It was interesting to learn their beliefs, work ethics, superstititions, all while trying to fit into a new way of life and prejudices. It was a family who held so many secrets of their own but wanted to preserve the family honor. Great characters, odd twists made this book a great read. It was easy to become emersed in the story as it was set near the area where I gave th ...more
Feb 05, 2016 Alkhan004 rated it it was amazing
This is an awsome book. Must read book. I love this book and I feel in love this amazing character. It is about a chines girl that struggles to survive in the 60's in an urban Canadian town, where is the only one that is "different". It highlights her immigration experiences, which gets complicated with her family problems... Read more to find out. This is an get book to read for immigrant that grow up or were born in the western countries, because they can relate to this girl and some of her ex ...more
Enjoyable but mostly because I found the details of small-town life interesting. I find it hard to get through novels about the immigrant experience because they so often rehash the same themes in the same, tired, cliched ways, but "Midnight at the Dragon Cafe" successfully navigates the stereotypes...mostly. The way that Chinese terms were inserted drove me to distraction; I understand if some expressions have no English equivalent, but surely a pinyin romanization, followed by an immediate tra ...more
This is the story of a young girl reflecting back on her life leading up to when she was 12. It starts with her and her mother moving from Hong Kong to a small town in northern Ontario to be with her father (whom she has not met).

Through Annie, we see glimpses of her mother's sorrow and isolation as she moves from a dynamic city where she fits in, to a small industry town where she rarely leaves the restaurant and does not speak English. Annie on the other hand is thrust out into the community f
The people behind the faces of the local Chinese-Canadian greasy spoon

With a quiet, unassuming elegance, Canadian-Chinese author Judy Fong-Bates sets the scene for her highly applauded debut novel, Midnight at the Dragon Café. Perhaps this story touched me more acutely than most of its readers, as it called to mind what my father and his parents must have experienced during and after their immigration from Hong Kong to a little town in Canada in the mid-1950s. Every word to me was genuine, haunt
Mary Billinghurst
I read this novel while on a very busy vacation. I had to put it down often, frequently mid-chapter. And yet, I had no trouble staying engaged with the story. From the beginning, I was interested in this family, and I loved the narrator, Su-Jen. Her experiences as the lone Chinese girl growing up in a small Ontario town seem very real. At times, her recollections jibe with my own, since the television she watched was from my era. I love the part about the Indian Head on the TV screen - it brings ...more
Feb 10, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This was our book club book for this month. It was the "Everybody
Reads" book for Multnomah County - a program they do every February
where the librarians pick one book and it's available for free at any
library for anyone. There are special programs all month relating to
the book and people are encouraged to sit and discuss it in groups. A
pretty neat program actually.

This novel was about an Chinese immigrant family moving to Canada
right as the cultural revolution begins to take place in China. The
Apr 10, 2009 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
If you didn't know this novel was a work of fiction, you'd think you were reading a memoir of Judy Fong Bates childhood!

At the age of six, Su-Jen is brought to Canada by her mother from China, to live in a small town just outside Toronto called Irvine. Su-Jen's father, Hing-Wun Chou has been in Canada awhile, running his small restaurant called "The Dragon Cafe. Su-Jen's mother wants her to have a better life in Canada with opportunities to attend school and obtain a decent job. Su-Jen tells her
Teena in Toronto
I borrowed this book from my local library. They had a table set up by the door that had books set in Toronto so I checked it out and thought this one sounded interesting.

The first couple of chapters weren't grabbing me. If I can't get into a book, I stop reading it and move onto the next one. I'm glad that I stuck with this one because I ended up really enjoyed it. I liked the writing style and the story.

The story is written in Annie's voice, from age six to twelve. She manages to fit in in the
Oct 29, 2011 Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

As a small child, Su-Jen arrives in a small town outside of Toronto to live with her father, whom she has never met. She and her mother have immigrated from Hong Kong, much to her mother's dismay. Su-Jen (or Annie, her Canadian name) feels completely caught between cultures as the only Chinese child in her small town in the 1960s (her parents run the one Chinese restaurant). She's constantly walking the fine line between being a good Chinese girl and growi
Apr 12, 2008 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
A good turn-out, of about a dozen people, with many newcomers. Most people found themselves (possibly against their will) drawn into the story. The child's voice rang true to most (albeit at the expense of creating more sympathy for the mother). The foreshadowings served well to build suspense, but the suspense never really came to a climax. There was much discussion, and disagreement, about the characters, with rather sharp divisions cropping up when talking about the merits of Annie's parents. ...more
Sep 03, 2007 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of The Joy Luck Club
This was a really good book. I've always been interested in how it must be to be new to a country, and not speak the language, and have only your family to interact with. It must be so isolating. That's what this story is about.
It's about a young girl and her mother who come to join her father at the restaurant he runs in a small town in Canada. The girl soons become Americanized (Canadanized?) and gains friends, but her parents don't learn English, and have only themselves to interact with, whi
May 06, 2012 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abcs-asiams, fiction
For young Su-Jen, leaving China and moving to Canada opens up a new world – not only a new culture, language, and way of life, but also the complexity of human nature and the relationships in her family. Over the course of this novel, Su-Jen navigates peer friendships, tries to adapt to Canadian society, meets her half-brother, puzzles over the relationship between her mother and father, and begins to realize that her family is presenting a facade to the outside world, underneath which are hidde ...more
Dec 12, 2011 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I toyed with giving this volume only two stars, but I did enjoy it despite some perceived flaws (perhaps it is just me, I thought), and I believe many readers, especially younger ones, will like it. But the story of this dysfunctional immigrant Chinese family in Canada during the 1960s is somewhat simplistic and, well, bland. Certainly it presents a lot of interesting insights into Chinese culture and challenges of life in a new country, especially a small town, as seen through the eyes of an el ...more
This novel felt more like a memoir and was kind of slow to begin with but it gave great insight to the life of a child in a different culture and to me, it was just a sad story that didn't leave me feeling like the story was over when I closed the back cover. Overall, it was written well but I would have liked some sort of separation such as chapters or at least parts split up into years or months or some sort of thing along those lines. Well deserving of three starts nonetheless.
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