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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 256 pgs.
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*** trigger warning***

If you’ve ever lost a parent or had a parent who passed away after a cancer diagnosis, this book may resurface some trauma.

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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, which is the selection for my work’s book club, is at times funny, but deeply sad. Her details about food and shopping trips with her Korean mother can be a bit overwhelming, but they serve to explain their connection. They connected over food, particularly Korean food, and trips to the H Mart. Zauner begins her memoir telling us up front that her mother has died, so it is not a surprise later on, which is a credit to her thinking about her audience in advance. “Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.” (pg.3) “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 lunches she packed and the meals she prepared for me just the way I liked them.” (pg. 4)

Zauner moves through her grief in a haphazard way through this memoir, but it’s not really a self-help book about grief. She does blame strangers she sees in H Mart for still having their mothers or grandmothers, but it is this irrationality that endears her to us as a reader. She’s in the depths of her grief and trying to hold onto the good in spite of the struggle.

She recounts her teen years, mental health issues, her struggle with identity (being half Korean and half American), and her need to be an artist, which runs contrary to her mother’s aspirations. Zauner also does a lot of internalizing. She fails to see how her mother cared for her when she was young, but her mother’s cancer diagnosis certainly puts that in better perspective.

“I had spent my adolescence trying to blend in with my peers in suburban America, and had come of age feeling like my belonging was something to prove. Something that was always in the hands of other people to be given and never my own to take, to decide which side I was on, whom I was allowed to align with. I could never be of both worlds, only half in and half out, waiting to be ejected at will by someone with greater claim than me. Someone full. Someone whole.” (pg. 107)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner is a memoir focused on an immigrant daughter’s struggle of losing her mother when she still needs her guidance, but it’s also a story of balancing heritage from both sides of the family and maintaining the connections that are important to us. One drawback for me was the separation between Michelle and her father, while she touches on how her perspective of him and his rebel life as a young man changes and his care for her mother further changes her view, she does little to explore that disconnect. It’s as if he has vanished from her life and story. I hope she revisits this relationship in another memoir.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Michelle Chongmi Zauner is a Korean-American musician and author, best known as the lead vocalist of the alternative pop band Japanese Breakfast.

Comments

  1. I actually visited an H Mart here after reading this book.

    • I don’t think I have any H Mart’s close enough, but we do have a World Market that has a distinct Asian area that sounds similar to the H Mart, but on a smaller scale.

  2. A good book for this month’s AAPI Heritage Month observation. I’ve read several books by Koreans this month.

    https://bookdilettante.blogspot.com/2023/05/aapi-heritage-month-two-memoirs.html