Soy Sauce for Beginners

Kirstin Chen. Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-544-11439-5
Chen’s debut illustrates a young woman caught between east and west, and between family tradition and her own ambition. Escaping the wreck of her marriage following her husband’s infidelity, Gretchen Lin abandons San Francisco (and her conservatory education), heading home to Singapore, where she reluctantly takes a temporary position at her family’s artisanal soy sauce business. The company has been in a precarious position following a food-safety scandal, but may be poised for a major entry into the Western market, thanks to growing interest in specialty foods. What starts as a difference of opinion quickly erupts into a family feud that threatens to break apart not only the older generation but possibly even the family business itself. In addition to dealing with these workplace woes, Gretchen awkwardly navigates the Singapore dating scene, as well as a reunion with an old college roommate and her mother’s increasing health problems, resulting from a lifetime of heavy drinking. Gretchen may find confidence—and satisfaction—where she least expects it, but her revelations seem arbitrary or unfocused at times. Chen’s novel is most enjoyable as 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. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/21/2013
Release date: 01/07/2014
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