Book Review: Crying in H Mart
Author: Michelle Zauner
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Rating: 5 stars
Read: April 2021
Special thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday for providing a free digital ARC in exchange for an honest review!
From the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast fame, and author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book, an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.
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.Penguin Random House
So, first off, I am a big Japanese Breakfast fan. My love of Michelle’s music made me want to pick up this book in the first place, and I’m glad I did. My appreciation of the book is probably skewed by the fact that I am a fan, but also I’m here to say that this book is just objectively very good.
Second off, this book is extremely sad. Content warnings for cancer, loss of a parent, and grief. Michelle has gone through the very traumatic experience of losing a parent at a relatively young age, and she talks about that at length on the page.
With all that being said: Wow, I really loved this book. In Crying in H Mart, Michelle depicts the rocky relationship with her mother growing up, the traumatic experience of losing her to cancer, and the process of grief she goes through in the years afterwards.
Michelle explores her relationship with her mother through food. Memories of meals and learning how to make the Korean dishes her mom would cook for her. So much memory and connection is found in food, and you really feel that in this book. It’s definitely a very personal depiction and is more about her side of the relationship, rather than her mother’s. Even though it’s one-sided, her experience of grief is universal and I connected with a lot of it.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book.
I had thought fermentation was controlled death. Left alone, a head of cabbage molds and decomposes. It becomes rotten, inedible. But when brined and stored, the course of its decay is altered. Sugars are broken down to produce lactic acid, which protects it from spoiling. Carbon dioxide is released and the brine acidifies. It ages. Its color and texture transmute. Its flavor becomes tarter, more pungent. It exists in time and transforms. So it is not quite controlled death, because it enjoys a new life altogether.
The memories I had stored, I could not let fester. Could not let trauma infiltrate and spread, to spoil and render them useless. They were moments to be tended. The culture we shared was active, effervescent in my gut and in my genes, and I had to seize it, foster it so it did not die in me.Crying in H Mart, pgs 194-195
Far Flung Readers blog received an Electronic Advanced Reader’s Copy of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner courtesy of Netgalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for this honest review. A big “thank you” to them! You can purchase a copy for yourself through Bookshop here.
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