Sarah H. (Arvada, CO)
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.
Susan J. (Twain Harte, CA)
Not Just About Soy Sauce
I'm not usually a reader of food-related books, but soy sauce intrigued me since we use it frequently when we are in Hawaii. Now I have to look for artisanal varieties! I do love books which focus on the conflicts between Eastern and Western cultures, such as Jhumpa Lahiri's books, and this is clearly one of the themes here. But the issues that Gretchen faces are more universal: family secrets, the pressures inherent in a family business, the hurt of infidelity, the impulse to accept a bad relationship to avoid being alone, the loyalty in women's friendships, a couple growing apart after marrying young. I related to a number of these issues and feel the author handles them in realistic and very readable ways. I plan to pass this book along to my two adult daughters.
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?
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.
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!
Sarah N. (Corte Madera, CA)
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...
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.