Soy Sauce for Beginners

Soy Sauce for Beginners

by Kirstin Chen
Published on January 7th 2014
Pages: 256
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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.

In Gretchen Lin’s Singapore circle of friends and family it is important to have a great career and/or to have married well. For Gretchen to move back to Singapore in the midst of a divorce and having not finished her latest degree is to admit failure.

It doesn’t help that she is given a token job in her family’s soy sauce factory as it is going through upheaval. The company was founded by her grandfather to make high quality fermented soy sauce in small batches. Now her cousin and uncle are trying to speed up the process because most people don’t know the difference between quality soy sauce and the cheap stuff. A rift is brewing in the company.

Gretchen’s mother is an alcoholic whose drinking problem has never been talked about. Now she is on dialysis and ignoring her drinking is killing her.

Gretchen’s response to all this is to hide herself away and do the minimum possible at work to get by. But eventually she’s going to have to help out before her family falls apart around her.

I learned a lot about brewing real soy sauce in this book. I’d be interested in trying some. They also talk about combining Sprite and soy sauce which sounds disgusting but the characters used it in their tasting demos because it was surprisingly good. I really would like to try that and see what that is about.