Before picking up Crying in H Mart, I hadn’t heard of author Michelle Zauner (of indie rock Japanese Breakfast fame), hadn’t read her viral 2018 New Yorker essay. Call me out of the loop; you’re probably correct. Yet Zauner’s memoir sang to me like a beacon because crying in public was something I can recently relate to. In February, I lost (lost is such a dumb word, I hate the word lost) my best friend (a vibrant mother of three young girls) to cancer, and since then have found myself crying while reading the books we both loved, reading the books she will never get to love, crying watching the birds at the bird feeder, and when the calendar officially switched to winter (her favorite season). Today is her birthday, and the reality of a world without this extraordinary woman who loved so fiercely and generously feels unfathomable to me.
“It felt like the world had divided into two different types of people, those who had felt pain and those who had yet to.”Michelle Zauner
Zauner, born in Seoul, Korea, spent her childhood in Eugene, Oregon. Although not fluent in Korean, she’s fluent in her love of Korean cuisine. And her celebration of Korean food is what unequivocally draws you into this story. If you don’t walk away from Crying in H Mart with a desire to dive headfirst into Korean cooking, then … well, I guess we all experience books differently. And that’s okay. But there’s something about food, about that sensory experience of taste, touch, and smell, that creates the richest memories. And it’s this gateway (food) that Zauner uses to launch into her story of growing up Korean American. Wanting to be less Korean in America while never feeling Korean enough in Korea. And then, the overarching story, in which Zauner details her relationship with her mom and losing her mom (the person who loved her most in the world) too soon to cancer. While telling her story, Zauner doesn’t gloss over the way cancer destroys a body or the challenging and terrifying aspects of human relationships.
“Hers was tougher than tough love. It was brutal, industrial-strength. A sinewy love that never gave way to an inch of weakness. It was a love that saw what was best for you ten steps ahead, and didn’t care if it hurt like hell in the meantime. When I got hurt, she felt it so deeply, it was as though it were her own affliction. She was guilty only of caring too much. I realize this now, only in retrospect. No one in this would would ever love me as much as my mother, and she would never let me forget it.”Michelle Zauner
Crying in H Mart is a memoir, and it’s powerful stuff. There are coming-of-age elements here, finding your own identity, there’s joy (the food!), but most of all, this is a book about bone-deep, earth-shifting loss and grief. Crying’s in the title. So, prepare to cry a lot. And while not all crying is cathartic, in this case, at least for me, it was.
Book: Crying in H Mart
Published: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: April 27th, 2021
Pan Macmillan South Africa kindly sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion, rating, or the content of my review.