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?
Julie H. (Pine Grove, PA)
For a relatively short book, the author touched on many subjects; marriage, friendship, business, family and culture. To me, this became the problem in the book. None of the topics felt fully developed and therefore the book felt choppy. The main character was not particularly likeable for much of the book, so it was difficult to be invested in her story. The most interesting parts of the book dealt with the soy sauce industry itself.
Elizabeth W. (Van Buren, AR)
What woman hasn't run to "get away from it all" only to find herself in the middle of an even more complex situation? Such is the case with Gretchen Lin in Soy Sauce for Beginners. Ambition, pride, and loyalty all join to create a fascinating book.
Michelle U. (Lords Valley, PA)
Soy Sauce for Beginners
This book was one of the least entertaining books I have ever read. The characters did not feel fully realized and the story itself was not gripping. I felt no connection to the characters and really didn't care what happened to any of them. I finished reading it only because I felt I had to and would not recommend it to other readers.
Kristen K. (Atlanta, GA)
Intriguing Idea Needs Work
I liked the setting of this book. I enjoyed learning about the culture of making soy sauce and loved the family's back story. I never felt any affection for the main character. She seemed shallow and although she improved towards the end she never won me over. I felt sorry for her parents. The plot was fairly predictable. I probably would not recommend this to my book club.
Sylvia G. (Scottsdale, AZ)
When I began this debut novel, I was thinking it was going to be typical, unimaginative chick-lit. What a wonderful surprise it turned out to be. A story about love, it's end, friendship, family business and finding your identity, it is smart,well written, and unpredictable. It seems, at the novels end, that we're being primed for a sequel...and that makes me very happy!
Mary M. (Dallas, TX)
At first "Soy Sauce for Beginners" appears to be yet another book where a young woman finds her place in the world but through the world of Soy Sauce, her family's business we find that cultural differences and values change the game. A nicely written book and a new appreciation for soy sauce - what more could you ask?