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Soy Sauce for Beginners

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  5,118 Ratings  ·  540 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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(showing 1-30)
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Nenia *The Flagrant Liberal* 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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
Julia Fiorio
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
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.
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)
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, december, 2013
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
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-star, 2013, kindle-first
It's not quite up to the standards of a 4 star rating, but better than a 3 star, and since I can't give it 3 1/2, I rounded up.

Kirsten Chen is a newcomer, and while I found her debut offering, Soy Sauce for Beginners to be charming and her characters relatable, it did have a few rough patches. The book blurb and other reviews have done an adequate job summarizing the plot, so I'll skip that part of the review.

I'll start with the positive. Ms. Chen has a mastery of the language which allows the r
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Sadly, this book did not live up to my expectations. While I consider it a worthwhile read, because it introduced me to some new ideas about cooking (I had no idea there was such a thing as artisan soy sauce) as well as culture (I have never been out of the States/Canada so some of the descriptions of Singapore were fascinating)... overall, I was bummed. The climax of the book... wait... was there a climax? There also seemed to be several interconnecting stories, except the problem is that they ...more
Dec 30, 2013 rated it liked it
I think this book has a few really good characteristics. The author does a great job with descriptions of both Singapore and San Francisco, and the --- new to me anyway -- process of making soy sauce. Some of the characters were quite well fleshed out, but others seemed almost unnecessary, and one dimentional. I was extremely disappointed that we didn't learn more about the production of soy sauce. Not that I will want to take it up any time soon, but some actual real life stuff would have made ...more
Apr 29, 2014 rated it liked it
I could totally see this book being made into a romantic dramedy for film. It is a very cute book with a main character that has flaws but is still very likeable. Gretchen Lin is 30 and leaving San Francisco after her husband cheats on her with a 21 year old student to head back to work in the family Soy Sauce business in Singapore. Will she be drawn back to the family business full time or will she head back to America? Will the new guy, James, that she meets in Singapore be the one or will her ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
A freebie I got from Amazon for being a Prime member (my first foray into this portion of our newly acquired Prime membership), something called their First program. This is a debut novel by the author, and I wasn't expecting to like it, since I mostly read Christian fiction. But it was surprisingly good, and very clean (I only remember 2 curse words in the entire book). Nice plot, likeable characters, it kept me turning the Kindle pages :)
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle-books
This was a fast an easy read. It was set in Singapore and gave me a good picture of a place I was unfamiliar with, and also interesting knowledge of the making of soy sauce. While the MC remained a bit too passive and seemed much younger than her supposed age of 30, their was character growth and a touching family drama, realistic women's friendships, and a kind of sad look at modern marriage and dating.
Jason Lundberg
Oct 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fast and light read, with an abiding love for both Singapore and San Francisco. Chen's evocation of late 20s / early 30s life changes, and the struggles between one's own desires and the responsibility toward family are spot-on and poignant. The interweaving narratives of Gretchen Lin's marital upheaval in the USA and the fortunes of her family's soy sauce business in SG are well-balanced, and her sensory descriptions of the titular sauce make me wish I could taste it right now.
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, novels
I liked this quiet, thoughtful book about a nearly 30-year old woman who moves home to Singapore and her experiences with navigating her family's business, men, heartbreak, and more. That's not a perspective you often get, and the Singapore setting really interested me. The ending's a bit predictable, but that's okay. Great writing.
Sep 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Overall, a good novel with a moving plot supported by great family intrigue. Gretchen got on my nerves with her own personal failings but.. that's what must happen for character development. I was a big Frankie fan, best supporting character I've seen in awhile that isn't a blindly supporting bff.
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Kirstin Chen is the author of the novels Bury What We Cannot Take, forthcoming from Little A in 2018, and Soy Sauce for Beginners, featured in USA Today’s “New Voices,” an O, The Oprah Magazine "book to pick up now," and a Glamour book club pick. A former Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing, she holds an MFA from Emerson College and a BA from Stanford University. She is a 2017-2018 writer in resi ...more
More about Kirstin Chen...

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“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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