Everybody's Reading One Book Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates
I met Judy Fong Bates in 2004, her novel Midnight at the Dragon Café was published that year. I loved the book when I read it and invited her to do a reading in Parry Sound. Judy took a gamble and stayed at my home during her visit, and we discovered we had lived in the same neighbourhood in Toronto when our children were young, and that we seemed to have a lot in common – we have since become good friends. Judy returned again last year to read from and talk about her memoir The Year of Finding Memory.
So, it is was with great delight that I heard that Midnight at the Dragon Café has been selected as the book to read for the Keep Toronto Reading One Book campaign. Free copies of the book were handed out by CBC broadcast personalities on a specially decorated Queen streetcar in Toronto on 28 February to 500 lucky commuters.
Midnight at the Dragon Café is set in a small Ontario town in the 1960’s. At the centre of the story if young Su-Jen, anglicized to Annie when she starts school. Annie has come from China with her mother, to join her father who came some years earlier and established a Chinese food restaurant. Here the family lives above, and works below. The story is told through the eyes of Annie as she observes the behaviour of the adults in her life – sometimes with understanding beyond her years. It is Annie who is out in the lo-fon world, but her parents still very much tied to the world they left behind – how lonely they must have been isolated by language and culture. Judy Fong Bates has told their story with insight and sympathy in a beautifully written novel. No wonder that this is the third time Midnight at the Dragon Café has been selected for a city-wide reading program, it was chosen in Portland, Oregon in 2007 and Orillia, Ontario in 2008.
In an interview after she received the news that Midnight at the Dragon Café was selected for Keep Toronto Reading One Book, she said, “I’d like to think that Midnight at the Dragon Café has a timeless appeal because it really is about family, struggle, isolation and all those things that people are always dealing with,” says Fong Bates. “It is a book that tries to look at universal issues through a very specific lens. The themes I try to touch on in the book are themes that people struggle with regardless of whether they live in a big city or a small town. “I’m sure that the book was chosen because of the multicultural aspect of Toronto, but I also like to think it was chosen because it was a good book.”
It is a very good book – let’s join Toronto and read Midnight at the Dragon Café – for the first time or again, as I did recently, enjoying it again as much as I did seven years ago.
The public is invited to celebrate with the author at the Toronto Reference Library on Friday 1 April from 7:30 to 8:00 pm for the launch of Keep Toronto Reading's One Book campaign. Meet author Judy Fong Bates and sample an aria from The White Snake with the Starlight Cantonese Opera company. Hosted by CBC's Laura DiBattista.