Gretchen Lin leaves her heart (or at least her floundering marriage) in San Francisco, moves back to her childhood home in Singapore and 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.
With echoes of Forgotten Country and Girl in Translation, Soy Sauce for Beginners reveals the triumphs and sacrifices that shape one woman’s search for a place to call home. Much as Sideways provides a glimpse into the world of winemaking, Soy Sauce for Beginners reveals the unexpected art and tradition behind the brewing of a much-used but unsung condiment. The result is a foodie love story that will give readers a hearty appreciation for family loyalty and fresh starts.
“Kirstin Chen’s debut is a delicious page-turning treat. Chen captures the zeitgeist of Singapore’s new generation in an engrossing, intimately layered tale of love, family, and the discovery of one’s true calling. It will also turn every reader into an artisanal soy sauce aficionado willing to settle for nothing but the best.” —Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians
“Soy Sauce for Beginners is an engaging story about a young woman’s journey through love and friendship, business and family as she seeks her own place in the world. A satisfying and insightful novel.” —Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life
“At the center of this novel is a struggling family business, but its bright heart is the difficult business of family. Written with warmth, umami and humor, Soy Sauce for Beginners considers the intricacies of inheritance and the challenges of safeguarding tradition. As we travel among the beauty and bustle of Singapore, we root for our young heroine to save her family and preserve their legacy but we also long for her to break free from her past. Kirstin Chen has written a spirited novel of self-discovery.” —Amber Dermont, author of The Starboard Sea
“Kirstin Chen evokes with wonderful brio the conflicts of a family business, and of a family. Reading these vivid pages made me want to catch the next plane to Singapore. Or failing that read another absorbing chapter. A sparkling debut.” —Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy