Soy Sauce for Beginners: Book summary and reviews of Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen

Soy Sauce for Beginners

By Kirstin Chen

Soy Sauce for Beginners
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2014,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

Gretchen Lin leaves her heart (or at least her floundering marriage) in San Francisco, moves back to her childhood home in Singapore and finds herself face-to-face with the twin headaches she's avoided her entire adult life: her mother's drinking problem and the machinations of her father's artisanal soy sauce business. Surrounded by family, Gretchen struggles with the tension between personal ambition and filial duty, but still finds time to explore a new romance with the son of a client, an attractive man of few words.

When an old American friend comes to town, the two of them are pulled into the controversy surrounding Gretchen's cousin, the only male grandchild and the heir apparent to Lin's Soy Sauce. In the midst of increasing pressure from her father to remain permanently in Singapore - and pressure from her mother to do just the opposite - Gretchen must decide whether she will return to her marriage and her graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory, or sacrifice everything and join her family's crusade to spread artisanal soy sauce to the world.

With echoes of Forgotten Country and Girl in Translation, Soy Sauce for Beginners reveals the triumphs and sacrifices that shape one woman's search for a place to call home. Much as Sideways provides a glimpse into the world of winemaking, Soy Sauce for Beginners reveals the unexpected art and tradition behind the brewing of a much-used but unsung condiment. The result is a foodie love story that will give readers a hearty appreciation for family loyalty and fresh starts.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Chen's novel is most enjoyable as a lighthearted glimpse into the rapidly changing culture and economy of Singapore, and into the lives of the young people hoping to find their future there." - Publishers Weekly

"East or West, music studies or the family business, authentic soysauce or a cheaper modern alternative? These are the choices facing droopy Gretchen Lin in a pleasant if generic tale of roots and romance." - Kirkus

"Kirstin Chen's debut is a delicious page-turning treat. Chen captures the zeitgeist of Singapore's new generation in an engrossing, intimately layered tale of love, family, and the discovery of one's true calling." - Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians

"Soy Sauce for Beginners is an engaging story about a young woman's journey through love and friendship, business and family as she seeks her own place in the world. A satisfying and insightful novel." - Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

"Kirstin Chen evokes with wonderful brio the conflicts of a family business, and of a family...A sparkling debut." - Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Sarah N. (Corte Madera, CA)
Great Read
I really enjoyed the book. I did want more out of the ending. I do think the characters were developed nicely. I really just wanted a little more meat out of the ending...

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Meredith K. (Hackensack, NJ)
Just like Amy Tan or Lisa See
I found the book to be interesting but nothing really special. The charactors were intelligent but the author didn't really delve into their psyches as much as I had hoped they would.

It reminded me of so many other books that I have read about the Asian experience.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sarah H. (Arvada, CO)
Excellent Writer!
There are some writers who catch you with their first sentence. You may not have a particular interest in the topic, you may not have anything in common with the character, but their way with words feels like listening to a symphony or watching a sunrise. While Kirsten Chen achieves this, she achieves so much more in tackling the challenges of life we all face in a very interesting (and informative) context. I look forward to more from this author.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Lynn V. (Woodland Hills, CA)
Soy Sauce For Beginners
This is the well written story of a young woman who is hiding from a challenge she knows she must face: finding her place in the world. Because of difficult circumstances in her life, she moves from San Francisco back home to Singapore and in the process learns about her family's artisanal soy sauce business, what it means to be a friend, family loyalty, and most important, herself. There are many plot lines and characters in this book which keep the pace moving and the reader involved. Slightly fewer might have allowed the author to develop her characters a little more deeply which would have been a bonus. As a confirmed cook, I would have appreciated more complete information about the making and use of fine soy sauce. The information that was given was well researched and titillated my taste buds!

The book is a rather long build up of a somewhat immature Gretchen, having a hard time making up her mind. While I did enjoy the book a great deal, and felt some suspense about what her decision would be, I would have liked a greater depth in the description of her character so that there was more understanding about why she decided what she did.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Carmen S. (Elkins, AR)
Interesting Read
I enjoyed reading this book. I have been to Singapore and I loved reading about the places I have been there. I enjoyed all the info on soy sauce. Very informative. Good story and loved all the family dynamics. Would like to know more of her story.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Mary Louise G. (Lords Valley, PA)
Soy Sauce for Beginners
I enjoyed reading Soy Sauce for Beginners and recommend it for book clubs. It gave me a new appreciation for the work and sacrifice involved in creating a genuine family soy sauce and the family dynamic involved. At family gatherings, it is still difficult for a lot of families to communicate their true feelings with one another.
Such skeletons as separation & divorce, alcoholism & work-aholism and other addictions lie buried in the family feud closets. Family pride keeps them buried unless a family member decides to undertake some digging. I have many
skeletons in my closet!!

...12 more reader reviews

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More Information

More Information

Kirstin Chen was born and raised in Singapore. A former Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing, she currently lives in San Francisco. Visit her at http://kirstinchen.com and follow her at twitter.com/kirstin_chen

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