Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

“The time I was born, my unborn cravings, the first book I read. The formation of every characteristic. Every ailment and little victory. She observed me with unparalleled interest, inexhaustible devotion. Now that she was gone, there was no one left to ask about these things. The knowledge left unrecorded died with her. What remained were documents and my memories, and now it was up to me to make sense of myself, aided by the signs she left behind. How cynical and bittersweet for a child to retrace the image of their mother. For a subject to turn back to document their archivist.”

Richly observed and heartbreakingly candid Crying in H Mart provides a powerful account of a complicated mother-daughter relationship. In her memoir musician Michelle Zauner writes with painful clarity of when at age 25 her mother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Zauner’s recollection of her mother’s terminal illness, her rapidly deteriorating health, and eventual death is heart-wrenching. Zauner conveys with devastating precision the grief, confusion, and hurt she experienced in the wake of her mother’s diagnosis. Interspersed throughout her memories of her mother’s illness are glimpses into her childhood and teenage years. In looking back to her youth Zauner examines her strained relationship with her mother, her evolving relationship to her Korean American identity, and the crucial role that food, in particular Korean food, played in her upbringing and adulthood. Food becomes a tether to her mother and her Korean heritage (speaking of which, there is this wonderful video starring Zauner & Maangchi ).
Zauner’s immersive storytelling, which is brimming with piercing insights into love, loss, and language, is utterly captivating.

Despite the harrowing subject matter, I found myself unwilling to interrupt my reading. In navigating her grief and her shifting perception of her mother Zauner presents her readers with some truly beautiful reflections on motherhood and daughterhood. I admire Zauner for being able to write with such lucidity about her grief and her mother’s illness. Zauner’s introspections also are worthy of praise as she is unflinching in her critiquing of her past-self.
Zauner’s examination of her often uneasy relationship with her mother underscores each episodic chapter within her memoir. In her recollection of her mother Zauner stresses how easy it is to mistake less ‘conventional’ demonstrations of love and affection as ‘lesser’.
Reading Crying in H Mart made my heart ache. Frank yet lyrical this is the kind of memoir that will leave a mark on its readers.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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