Eat a Bowl of Tea

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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.