Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
This is a memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.
In this story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up the only Asian American kid at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.
As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band–and meeting the man who would become her husband–her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
This touching memoir written by Michelle Zauner is about growing up as a Korean-American in the United States, her sometimes complicated relationship with her parents, and her experience of losing her mom to advanced pancreatic cancer. After having a tumultuous relationship with her mother growing up, she longs to cure her mother and to heal their relationship. As she navigates through this difficult time feeling pain and grief, she uses Korean foods she holds dear to commemorate her mother by learning how to cook them, while reflecting on memories of her childhood.
“Food was how my mother expressed her love. No matter how critical or cruel she could seem—constantly pushing me to meet her intractable expectations—I could always feel her affection radiating from the lunches she packed and the meals she prepared for me just the way I liked them.”
I first heard about this book on NPR and knew it was a memoir I couldn’t pass up. Cancer is something that has plagued my own family, and I was interested in the cultural aspects of the book as well. I’d never heard of Michelle Zauner or her band (Japanese Breakfast), so I was intrigued.
Crying in H Mart turned out to be a beautiful, well-written and thought-provoking memoir. This wasn’t a memoir that had me bawling my eyes out from beginning to end, but it hit me in waves, forcing me to put the book down and return to it. It’s emotional, and it transfixed me—sending me into reflections of past relationships with members of my own family—reminding me of how we should never take family for granted. No one is guaranteed any specific amount of time here, and we have to live each day like it’s our last together.
“The boy’s mom placed pieces of beef from her spoon onto his. He is quiet and looks tired and doesn’t talk to her much. I want to tell him how much I miss my mother. How he should be kind to his mom, remember that life is fragile and she could be gone at any moment.”
It was easy to relate to Michelle’s relationship with particular Korean foods and the cooking she grew up with. The connection to her Korean heritage was through her mom. I’m one of the last people in my family to prepare specific recipes from my Syrian side—those that I grew up eating—so it’s something I often share with my own children. I’ve always hoped that our family recipes would remain preserved and carried into future generations. It was a neat experience learning about Korean dishes I’ve never heard of—some that include familiar ingredients from Syrian recipes too, including pine nuts. Kimchi is a fermented food I’ve eaten for years, and now I’m inspired to make my own. I look forward to trying different Korean foods some day. Needless to say, I connected with this book on multiple levels.
People who’ve experienced the loss of a loved one or those experiencing grief now will likely connect with this book. The author does share the entire, detailed experience of her mother’s diagnosis and illness and what it was like for her during these times as her caretaker. She’s woven it all with memories of her past, which makes it incredibly emotional. There were some laugh-out-loud moments for me as well. I’d recommend this book because I’m sure everyone can take something from it.
Overall, Crying in H Mart is a moving memoir about the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, grieving, forgiveness, and the power of food and how it connects us.
- Publisher : Knopf; First Edition (April 20, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525657746
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525657743
“The Body is a Blade” from the album: Soft Sounds from Another Planet
“Boyish” from the album: Soft Sounds from Another Planet.
Thanks for reading my review of Crying in H Mart. Have you read this book? Do you like Japanese Breakfast? Feel free to comment below.