Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

“I wonder how many people at H Mart miss their families. How many are thinking of them as they bring their trays back from the different stalls. If they’re eating to feel connected, to celebrate these people through food. Which ones weren’t able to fly back home this year, or for the past ten years? Which ones are like me, missing the people who are gone from their lives forever?”

– Michelle Zauner, “Crying in H Mart”

Review:

Trigger Warnings: abusive parents, mentions of infidelity, raw grief, and detailed descriptions of illness due to cancer

I ordered my copy of Crying in H Mart through Book of the Month Club.

Crying in H Mart is not a book for everyone. In fact, it can often read as if it is intended more for the author’s own catharsis and experience than for a reader. However, that is not necessarily problematic. I too want to document and archive everything. It is why I photograph incessantly, scrapbook diligently, and journal incessantly. In that way I find that I am very much like Michelle’s mother and like Michelle herself.

This story focuses mostly on Michelle’s mother’s prolonged death from cancer, but it also lingers poignantly on Michelle’s own experiences as a Korean American. The author discusses her childhood and adolescence, where she struggled with an identity that felt fractional: she was not completely American, nor was she completely Korean. Could she ever be enough of either to fit in anywhere?

This conflict, along with teenage hormones leads to a bit of a falling out between Michelle and her mother just before Michelle leaves for college on the opposite coast of the country. And although the story frames this as something that spontaneously developed during those dreaded teenage years, I think this was growing, much like a cancer, in Michelle’s relationship with her mother all along. Michelle doesn’t frame conversations in this light, but her mother was emotionally abusive. She always picked at Michelle’s appearance, criticized her actions, and said things to her that no mother should say to her daughter. I was crushed to realize that such abuse was not acknowledged. We cannot heal from pain that we refuse to acknowledge.

The story fizzles out for me after Michelle and her father take a trip to Vietnam. The last 30 pages or so didn’t seem to offer me anything, whether that be insight or closure into the story. Perhaps I simply missed something. But I also feel that the ending of this story isn’t an ending. Michelle is only 32. She hopefully has many more chapters in her life and time to discover herself more deeply and to reflect on and learn further from what she’s documented here. I always have a hard time reviewing and rating memoirs, and that is especially true with this one. I feel like Michelle’s book is foremost for Michelle, and who am I to have any opinion on her story, on this life she has lived, on her relationship with her mother, or her grief? Even if this wasn’t my favorite book, the journey of this book did make me feel, and that alone makes it worth reading.

“Some of the earliest memories I can recall are of my mother instructing me to always “save ten percent of yourself.” What she meant was that, no matter how much you thought you loved someone, or thought they loved you, you never gave all of yourself. Save 10 percent, always, so there was something to fall back on. “Even from Daddy, I save,” she would add.”

– Michelle Zauner, “Crying in H Mart”

Pros:

  • narration that flows easily, detailed but not overly wordy
  • a complex look at how a mother/daughter relationship changes over time
  • a main character who knows she is flawed and is beginning to experience some reflection on who she is as a person independent of other people
  • audiobook narration by the author is extremely helpful in understanding Korean words and phrases

Cons:

  • relationships and the past are romanticized after their passing, meaning that traumas and emotional abuse are left unexplored and unhealed
  • narrator at times shows a lack of self awareness and seems manipulative in her relationships with her father and boyfriend

Review:

  • ⭐⭐⭐

“Save your tears for when your mother dies.”

– Michelle Zauner, “Crying in H Mart”

Recommended For:

  • Those interested in what it is like to be of two separate cultures
  • Those who have lost a parent or loved one and need a companion in grief
  • Fans of Michelle’s music and band Japanese Breakfast

Books to Read If You Loved Crying in H Mart:

Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)

  • How does food connect you to your loved ones? How does food preserve memories and culture?
  • In what ways does our grief make us selfish? In what ways does it connect us to others?
  • Has this review or the book convinced you to try any of Michelle’s music? If so, what song did you listen to and what did you think about it?

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