Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner


For a while, I was seeing this book literally everywhere. I thought it was going to be a typical food memoir, kind of like Nigel Slater's TOAST, and while parts of it were that, about halfway through it undergoes a total tonal shift, where the focus is entirely on her mother's end of life, the stress it put on her relationships, the mental breakdowns it caused, and the agony of seeing someone you love go slowly and painfully as they shed their sense of self. It's incredibly painful and I don't think the summary fully conveys how traumatic this book could be to someone who is losing or has recently lost a loved one. The summary describes this book as having "humor and heart," and while it certainly possessed plenty of the later, I had difficulty finding any of the former.

CRYING IN H MART is about Michelle Zauner's identity as a half-Korean/American. Her mother was her anchor to Korean culture, and her entre into the culture was primarily through food. The book opens with her walking through H Mart and talking about how food is a bonding experience in so many different kinds of relationships, and she talks about some of the memories certain dishes gave her. This is a constant theme throughout the book, although it is not as food-focused as the first chapter would have you believe.

I liked the raw honesty with which she talked about her family. The alienation she felt from Korean culture because she couldn't speak the language and the existential crisis she had when losing her mother (and therefore, by proxy, part of herself) was powerful and tragic. I also liked how she talked about the ugly side of grief and mourning. All too often, when grief is portrayed, it's as a unifying experience; but sometimes, as it does in this book, it ends up driving people apart and making them selfish. There are different ways to express grief or to mourn, and it was nice to see that here.

Apart from the slightly misleading presentation, I really liked this book. I don't think I'd want to read it again but the way that the author described food and relationships was great.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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