Soy Sauce for Beginners – Kirstin Chen

(Reviewed by JD Jung)


One pushed me to return to America, the other urged me to pull out the knife, let the wound heal, and remain in Singapore. But I was done choosing sides, pleasing one over the other.  From here on out, I would find a way to please myself.

But what would make Gretchen Lin happy?  Her father wanted her to stay in Singapore and eventually run the family business, Lin’s Soy Sauce. This was an artisan sauce, unlike the fiberglass mass-produced kind. “Tangy and pungent, like rising bread or wet earth, these soybeans smell of history, of life, of tiny, patient movements, unseen by the naked eye”. To his disappointment, Gretchen decided not to follow in her grandfather’s, father’s, uncle’s, or even her cousin’s footsteps.

Instead, her mother wanted her to experience the world, claiming that her own best years were those spent at Cornell. She regretted returning to Singapore to marry, and resorted to a condition of acute alcoholism.  She made sure that her daughter would not make the same mistake she did.

So Gretchen attended boarding school in Monterey, California, graduated from Stanford, married, moved to San Francisco, and was in the process of getting her second master’s degree. She experienced the freedom that she was unable to realize in Singapore.

Her life didn’t proceed as  planned though. A few months after turning thirty, her American husband left her for his young research assistant. Embarrassed, she withheld this from her family and longtime friends back home.

She returned to Singapore to figure out what to do next and help with her mother who was suffering from kidney failure.  Her father felt that it would be beneficial for her to work temporarily at the factory.

Gretchen now begins a journey to find out what she truly wants. Can she embrace Singapore as naturally and passionately as her blond- haired American friend does?

I normally shy away from “chick lit”, as this may be considered. However, there is so much more going on in Soy Sauce for Beginners. In addition to discovering one’s self, we watch Gretchen experience love and betrayal and endure jealousy and family strife. We also peek into another  culture, while  being reminded of our cultural similarities. One issue that is dealt with and seems to be universal in most modern socialites is the business decision to maximize profits at the expense of adhering to one’s principles and producing a quality product.

Soy Sauce for Beginners it a exceptionally written page-turner that I wasn’t able to put down. I’m sure that readers will enjoy this gem also.





This entry was posted in Culture, Modern Literary Fiction, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.