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Soy Sauce for Beginners

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  5,798 ratings  ·  605 reviews
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 str

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by New Harvest (first published January 1st 2014)
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3.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,798 ratings  ·  605 reviews

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Nenia ✨ Queen of Literary Trash, Protector of Out-of-Print Gems, Khaleesi of Bodice Rippers, Mother of Smut, the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention ✨ Campbell

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I bought this book without reading the summary because at the time it was on sale for $1.99 down from $4.99. Later, when I was trying to decide which Kindle book I wanted to read next, I really took a look at the summary and my heart sank a little when I saw that it was - gasp, cringe - "women's fiction."

To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed SOY SAUCE FOR BEGINNERS. Part of that is the heroine herself. I wasn't sure how well I'd be able
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle
I bought this book for cheap on Amazon, fairly suspicious that this would end up being "chick lit," and my suspicions really were fair.

Let's just say it would take very little work to turn this into a Lifetime movie. There's a little more depth than that, but it's slight enough to be edited out. Our main character's really kind of a spoiled bitch, with Parents Issues, but none of that is explored enough to be something to make you go "hmm." The soy sauce angle is thankfully relevant but slight.
Angela Schaffer
Feb 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book was a disappointment overall. In both fiction and film, I most enjoy works in which I can connect strongly to the characters. I simply could not do that with this novel. The protagonist, Gretchen, is too weak, in her decisions about her marriage, her career, her parents, her new relationship, etc. I felt she was a poorly developed character. I also believed the text suffered from editing. There was a fine concept there. However, as a Creative Writing instructor, I would have handed thi ...more
Gary Singh
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a dude who doesn't think this is chick lit, I loved the book. Just like me, it's half-eastern and half-western, with the other half lost in music school somewhere. I didn't go to the SF Conservatory, but I think I still might have the key to the practice rooms at the university where I did go, even though that was 16 years ago, and not too far away. In that sense, I feel like I know Gretchen, the protagonist. She has no idea what she wants in life, stuck between her eastern half and her weste ...more
Angela Risner
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was my Prime memberships free book choice and I have to say, it was a good one. This is Kirstin Chen's debut novel and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Gretchen Lin is at what I call the second-coming-of-age point in your life - age 30. A native Singaporean, Gretchen has spent a large part of her life in the US, through boarding school, college, graduate school and married life. Now she returns home for some breathing room from her troubled marriage and career p
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't put it down! It felt like I was reading someone's journal. If you have ever experienced moving away and then coming back home, you would certainly identify with Gretchen's story. I love how the author weaved in the intricacies of making good soy sauce. She didn't just write a beautiful story, she made me care about what happened to each character. Pick this book up, you won't be disappointed!
Dec 01, 2013 rated it liked it
There are beautiful moments throughout the novel, but on the whole, I wanted much more from the writing, from the storytelling.
Definitely need to think more about this one, but I'd say 3.5.
A quick, pleasant enough read, but not quite strong enough for me to rate 3 stars. Gretchen Lin, the protagonist, is unlikable in a spoilt rich (thirty-something) kid kind of a way. I found it hard to be truly invested in Gretchen's dilemma; whether to go back to America to a cheating husband and a grad school placement that she really doesn't care about, or to stay in Singapore and take on the family business that she doesn't really care about. Really, Gretchen, were they your only options? Hav ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I actually really loved this, and I was surprised to see other reviews disparaging it in such a harsh way. It's a novel about a woman at 30 who's getting divorced, and goes home to Singapore temporarily to see her family and get herself together. She has to put up with a lot of jerks, almost all of whom are men. This is most definitely not a love story, which I thought was a major plus. If anything, the strongest relationships are between Gretchen and her mother and with her best friend.

It's a s
Shanna Clark
Jan 01, 2014 rated it liked it
To be a debut novel, this one has it's strengths, but there are also many weaknesses.

The protagonist in the story is not a likable person. She has no self-esteem, but seems to be shocked when people do not regard her. It's contradictory and frustrating. Only toward the end of the novel does she become a tolerable character after completely changing all facets of her needy, whiny personality.

The story would be moving along strongly before pausing for a flashback or anecdote. Some of the flashback
Afoma Umesi
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fantastic introduction to the work of Kirstin Chen especially as I await her second novel. Gretchen, thirty and separated from her husband after he cheats on her with an undergrad student, moves back home to Singapore. Her family is in the soy sauce manufacturing business and she attempts to join the family business while in Singapore. However, as it is with family, there’s a good amount of drama which mixed in with her personal drama is enough to incite a near midlife crisis.

I really
Patty Mccormick
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is a quick read. It is easy to follow and understand. It is the struggle of a family business and it’s choices of how to remain successful and carry on. This is the coming of age story of Gretchen who must make big decisions in her life about what she really wants to do both in her personal and professional life. She has to find her way and embrace who she is. There is also a little thread of a love story woven in. The book is full of information about soy sauce. There is also elements ...more
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Meh. It's been a while since I so sincerely despised the narrator/protagonist in a novel. The only consolation was that the "happily ever after" didn't include her finding her worth through being in a relationship. That and the desire to taste the legitimate soy sauce. Yay.
Dec 05, 2013 marked it as to-read
I accidentally pushed a button on the Itouch and next thing I knew I'd ordered this pre-release. Figure I might as well read it, maybe it was serendipity.
3.5 stars rounded down. Loved the sections about the production, taste, and marketing of artisanal soy sauce.
Joood Hooligan
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it

I picked this as one of my monthly choices as a Prime member last December, and I decided to finally give it a go when I saw it was a Whispersync option on KU. (Knowing that I can press play on a book I'm reading when I'm busy cleaning or driving is a fabulous thing, especially because I hate stopping a good book.)

Before I get into the review of the book, I want to say that I felt Nancy Wu did a wonderful job as a narrator, and I plan on listening to more
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
I bought the book as part of Amazon First and also because I thought it would be interesting. I tried for more than a month to read it, but it was hard. It's hard to relate to a a character in a privileged disposition in life only to whine and ramble about life and a marriage that has crumbled. Gretchen's father owns a soy sauce company in Singapore and she comes home from California after her marriage crumbled and when she learned that her mother was ill. There was a position made for her in th ...more
Feb 26, 2015 rated it liked it
I felt I was reading a journal, as if this was the author’s memoir. So begins the story of Gretch who is in a transition in her life – after being faced with deceit and betrayal.

Many note the rich Asian symbolism. Funny on the rich asian part as, for example, I don’t feel rich at all – it’s our parents and ancestors legacy we just happen to be inheriting.

I can’t help but reminisce on how the parents throw out the name of the Uni their son/daughter attend/attending/attended. There’s the typical
Sachi Argabright
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I knew after I read Chen’s most recent novel, Bury What We Cannot Take, I had to go back and read her debut. While Soy Sauce for Beginners is very different in tone, I was happy to see the attention to detail and character building remained strong in Chen’s writing. While Gretchen is flawed and makes many mistakes, I was eager to find out what would happen to her after she finished her summer stint at the family business. In addition to the main characters, the business itself plays an integral ...more
Dec 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nova-lit-chicks
Things I liked about the book: I liked the cultural pieces - I've never been to Asia or Singapore (or thought about soy sauce on any level) so it was nice to expand my horizon. The plot was average, but no terrible so we'll keep it in the like column.

Things I didn't like: The main character was god-awful and unlikeable! I tried to cut her some slack with everything that happened to her, but goodness reading about her life was like watching some repeatedly slam their head in the door, say it hurt
Feb 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Soy Sauce for Beginners was a promising read, depicting a 30-some asian, worn down by life and returning to her family roots, set in Singapore. Almost sounds like my life in a couple years! But Kirsten Chen's characters failed to come to life. There are plenty of other reviews that hit my feelings pretty accurately concerning this book.
A book that kind of languishes with no clear plot to follow, characters that I can no longer remember the name to, and feelings that don't really hit an emotional
Clarissa Simmens
An excellent story containing all the rich symbolism I enjoy. Gretchen is a music student but the metronome appears so many times that surely it is a metaphor for her chaotic life: to slow down her mother's illness, to speed up time to get away from family and to reverse time back to when her marriage was whole. Chen's two sentences describe the major theme: “I reached over to my nightstand, turned my metronome to forty, the slowest setting, and counted the steady clicks. Once the needle got goi ...more
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book is the literary equivalent of fat free sugar free dessert. Seems like an okay idea but not worth the effort. This book took me forever to read. Not because is was long, or complicated, or a dense read. I just didn't care about it at all and had trouble forcing myself to pick it up. I just finished this at 9:21 and will have forgotten about it completely by 9:25.
Jul 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-book
I liked the book in spite of not liking to protagonist very much. I liked her friends much better. They felt real and grounded. I enjoyed the setting of Singapore and the telling of the parallel lives of Gretchen and her mother. The soy sauce business part was good and interesting, but I was irritated at how good things kept falling into Gretchen's lap when she wasn't working that hard on them.
Dec 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
This is a light and breezy book, easily read but without much satisfaction. There were as many tired tropes as new or uncommon elements (eg the alcoholic mother, the hunky (and desirable) Asian man)
A sweet, but predictable story. I was hoping it would have more about the culture than it did.
Ashe Dryden
Jan 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Was really disappointed by the fatphobia in this otherwise good book.
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, december, fiction
Quick-paced read about a family of artisan soy sauce makers. Gretchen is the only daughter of the Lins, who run a soy sauce business in Singapore. They make their sauce in small batches using old-fashioned methods. Gretchen's mother, who spent years studying in the United States, encouraged Gretchen to study, live, and work in the States as well rather than returning to Singapore.

But Gretchen is back in Singapore, having left her graduate program and apartment because she and her husband are es
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a book which took me a while to get into, but once I did I quite enjoyed the read. It is the story of Gretchen who returns to Singapore and the family soy sauce factory after years of living in San Francisco following the break up of her marriage. I really enjoyed reading about the factory and the history of it, as well as Singapore itself. As for the food descriptions, well they just made me hungry although I found it ironic that surrounded by all the wonderful food, Gretchen preferred ...more
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Kirstin Chen's second novel, Bury What We Cannot Take (Little A, March 2018), was named a best book of the year by Entropy, Popsugar, and Book Bub, and a top pick of the season by Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, Harper’s Bazaar, and InStyle. She is also the author of Soy Sauce for Beginners. She has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Nap ...more
“Govern a family as you would cook a small fish—very gently.” 3 likes
“One cannot refuse to eat just because there is a chance of being choked.” 2 likes
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