Thursday, July 22, 2021

Crying In H Mart, by Michelle Zauner: A Sad, Sweet, Hip Memoir of Food, Identity, and Music

Memoirs are still all the rage these days, especially sad ones. And this one — Crying In H Mart, by Michelle Zauner — is especially sad. But it's also sweet and a little funny and pretty hip too. You may know Zauner as the frontwoman and songwriter behind the indie shoegaze band Japanese Breakfast. (If you don't, that's okay — I hadn't heard of her either, but I listened to a lot of Japanese Breakfast while reading this, and I love her!) 

This memoir is about Zauner's mother's sickness and death from cancer. But a major through-line is her connection to her Korean identity — her mother is Korean, her father American. (Here's a Daily Show interview that explains how she came up with Japanese Breakfast, despite being Korean.) Being half Korean was a liability in her mind as she grew up as a bit of a wild child in Eugene, Oregon, but a part of her she wishes she'd embraced more after her mother's death, especially given that her relationship with her mother wasn't always perfect.

Another thing I learned from this book right off the bat is that H Mart is a Korean grocery store. Food is one way Zauner learns to embrace her Korean heritage and remind herself of her mother. She writes about all the Korean food she loved growing up and begins learning to make her mother's dishes. This helps her appreciate food the way her mother did, and by extension, her identity. 

Zauner is a tremendously gifted, extremely self-aware writer. Of course, it was fascinating to read about her evolution as a writer, artist, and musician. But her relationship with her mother and her evolving notion of her own identity are on center stage here — and these are what make this a really great read.

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