At the close of the Second World War, racist immigration laws trapped enclaves of old men in Chinatowns across the United States, preventing their wives or families from joining them. They took refuge from loneliness in the repartee and rivalries exchanged over games of mahjong in the backrooms of barbershops or at the local tong. These bachelors found hope in the nascent marriages and future children who would someday grow roots in American soil, made possible at last by the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943.
Louis Chu tells the story of a newlywed couple that inherits the burden of this tightly bonded community’s expectations. Returning soldier Ben Loy travels to China to marry Mei Oi, a beautiful, intelligent woman who then emigrates to New York. After their honeymoon, Ben Loy becomes impotent, and his inability to father a child frustrates both Mei Oi and the Chinatown bachelors. This discontent boils over when Mei Oi has an affair and the community learns of Ben Loy’s humiliation.
Eat a Bowl of Tea remains a groundbreaking and influential work. The first novel to capture the tone and sensibility of everyday life in an American Chinatown, it is an incisive portrayal of Chinese America on the brink of change. A new foreword by Fae Myenne Ng explores the depth and meaning of Mei Oi’s lust and elucidates the power of Chu’s uncompromising writing.
About the Author
Louis Chu (1915–1970) was born near Canton, China. He was the proprietor of a Chinatown record shop and the only Chinese disc jockey in New York City. Fae Myenne Ng is author of Bone and Steer Toward Rock.
What People are Saying About This
I love, love, love this authentic American classic! I reread it every year for inspiration, nourishment and a good laugh! Thank you, Louis Chu, for teaching me how to speak out with a vivid, unsparing Chinese American tongue!
Louis Chu is our renegade writer, withstanding Exclusion, enduring Confession, and perhaps pondering Free Love, to capture the terror of that climate as an unrelenting tension in his novel of bitter loving.
Essential and revelatory. Eat a Bowl of Tea is a must-read for all it tells us about its time and place. And yet, it's more than a catalog of manners and moresit's a page turner, too, as salty and lively as the day it was written. All hail this long-overdue reissue! A pleasure lies in store for a whole new generation of readers.