I know, I know it’s Christmas very soon and I should probably be knee deep in festive reads but – by some weird twist of fate – the last two books I’ve read have been about death. I had a more wintery book at the top of my TBR for the month but, after hearing so much about this book, I knew I had to pick it up before the year ended.
An unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.
In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids 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 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.
Vivacious and plainspoken, lyrical and honest, Zauner’s voice is as radiantly alive on the page as it is onstage. Rich with intimate anecdotes that will resonate widely, and complete with family photos, Crying in H Mart is a book to cherish, share, and reread.
Up until I read this book, I only knew of Japanese Breakfast- the gorgeous musical project seeped in emotion. I didn’t know much at all about the person behind it, Michelle Zauner.
In a fantastically lyrical style, Zauner takes the reader through her struggles: at first to adjust to being Korean and American (and not quite feeling like she is enough of either) then to grapple with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and death. From the first page, I was engrossed by the stunning details of the food Zauner ate, the places she went and the little snippets of her life – it was sometimes hard to believe this was someone’s life I was reading about.
I love food. Though I refuse to call myself a “foodie” (because the term makes me cringe), I love the effort that goes into making food, the stories behind dishes and the memories food can hold for people. In between feeling deeply emotional, this book made me hungry. I had to stop reading a few times to get a snack (or to Google what some of the dishes Zauner mentions look like). It was interesting to see food in a different way, as a vehicle for dealing with grief but also as a vehicle for remembering a person’s life.
I have experienced grief this past year, as I’m sure a lot of people have, and I’ve struggled with how to navigate it. I felt like this book guided me through my grief and cemented that it is not linear, some days you get on as normal and other days you see something in a shop you used to go to with them and spend the day crying. There are good days and there are bad days, that’s for sure.
I don’t know how to express how perfect this book is. It was moving and complex yet simple. It made me feel sadness and grief for the loved ones I’ve lost of the years but also grateful for the family that I do have. I haven’t read a book like this in a long time and I urge everyone to pick it up if you can.
You can buy this book here.