Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen

It’s not often that a book comes along and completely sweeps me off my feet, but that’s exactly what Kirstin Chen’s debut novel, Soy Sauce for Beginners, does. With extremely elegant writing and a story that is relatable on many levels, this book kept me turning pages until there were no more left to turn.

When Gretchen Lin finds out her husband is cheating on her, she packs her bags and leaves their home in California. She returns to her family’s home in Singapore where she takes a temporary job at the family artisanal soy sauce company, Lin’s Soy Sauce. As she struggles to figure out how to cope with her husband’s betrayal, Gretchen must also navigate the trials of reconnecting with old friends, her mother’s illness and alcohol addiction, and figuring out what, exactly, she wants to do with her life.

There were many things I loved about this book, but the biggest one is right in the title. Gretchen’s family’s soy sauce company produces artisanal sauces. Unlike the dark brown, watery sauce many of us are familiar with, they use natural fermentation processes and no chemicals to produce a light, complex sauce. Little facts about artisanal soy sauce are scattered throughout the book, and it was absolutely fascinating to learn about. I never expected to find something as mundane as soy sauce so interesting!

The soy sauce company is the crux of this story. When Gretchen returns to Singapore, Lin’s is recovering from a scandal caused by her cousin’s poor business decisions. Her father wants her to step up and take on more responsibility at the company, but Gretchen is determined to go back to California to finish the music degree she is pursuing at the start of the next semester.

I really enjoyed that, unlike so many books published recently, romantic love wasn’t a driving force in this novel (although there is a nice, semi-romantic sub-plot). Read the full review at The Daily Quirk!

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