Rated of 5
by Linda J. (Manchester, MO)
Soy Sauce For Beginners
I love books about food, and the title "Soy Sauce For Beginners," intrigued me. Maybe it wasn't as grandiose as "Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously" or "Chocolat," but tempting nonetheless. I wasn't disappointed.
Gretchen Lin, a graduate student in San Francisco, is in the midst of an unraveling marriage and decides to return to her home in Singapore where her family owns an artisanal soy sauce company. I never knew there were artisanal soy sauces, so that, in itself, piqued my interest.
On her return, she is drawn into a power struggle between her father, her Uncle Robert, and his son, Cal, concerning the company, and she finds that her mother has gotten a full-blown drinking problem so bad that she is on dialysis.
While she is trying to process all of this turmoil, her best friend, Frankie, from San Francisco arrives, loving Singapore and wanting to live there. Gretchen gets her a job at Lin's Soy Sauce, and Frankie gets drawn into the drama surrounding the company. This begins to cause a rift in their friendship.
Add to that the fact that Gretchen gets involved with the son of a client, and it doesn't take too long to get completely immersed in this book. Gretchen finds herself torn between her parents. Cal had previously made a disastrous business decision which caused Gretchen's father and his brother, Robert, to banish him from the company. Now, with some clients willing to pay for a soy sauce of lesser quality, her uncle has invited him back to the company, while Gretchen's father refuses. He wants Gretchen to take the lead.
Gretchen's mother, however, wants her to return to her studies in San Francisco and make her own life. Then there's the issue of her separation from her husband that she needs to solve.
Chen keeps the action at a steady pace with well-placed dialogue and setting, making it hard to put down, even for sleep.
Plus, one finds out a lot about the nuances of soy sauce. She describes how Gretchen's grandfather, Ahkong, developed the delicate sauce and aged it in clay pots, making it the premier sauce of Singapore and beyond. The conflict begins when Uncle Robert on Cal's suggestion, wants to short cut the process making a less palatable product for more profit.
My only problem with the book was that Chen made Gretchen seem a bit selfish or shallow at times. Even though one could empathize with her problems, she could come off as less than likeable. Chen does, however, capture the personalities of all the characters and their interactions.
Added to great story telling, I learned all sorts of things about soy sauce that will make me more judicious in selecting the proper sauce for my next recipe. Who knew?