Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen

Y_SAUCE_FOR_BEGINNERS_-_Final_Cover_-_Hi-ResIn the waning days of 2013, I read my first e-book. I love physical books and had been shunning e-books for decades.

But, finally, I relented. I downloaded the Kindle application on to my smart phone* and purchased a handful of books, many of which had been on my “to read” list for eons. In a week, I read four e-books—two memoirs, a collection of essays, and a novel.

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That novel was Soy Sauce for Beginners by San Francisco-based Singaporean Kirstin Chen. I had recently “met” the author on Twitter and noticed that her book was one of Amazon’s December Kindle First selections. (The Kindle First program gives members the opportunity to download one of four editors’ picks one month before the official publication date, either for free or at a reduced price.)

Soy Sauce for Beginners is a pleasant, if predictable, tale about family and food. From the “flap copy”**: “Gretchen Lin, adrift at the age of thirty, leaves her floundering marriage in San Francisco to move back to her childhood home in Singapore and immediately 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.”

I enjoyed Chen’s eminently readable debut, despite finding many of her characters, save for the protagonist’s parents, lacking in depth. It is, to quote Publishers Weekly, 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,” and a beautifully-rendered primer on the art and tradition behind the brewing of a much-used condiment. 

Follow Kristin on Twitter and buy her book.

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* I’m not yet convinced I need a dedicated e-reader. I attribute the ease with which I can access my “library” to the pace at which I have recently been able to devour “books.”

** What is the e-equivilent of “flap copy”?

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