I finally got to one of 2021’s popular reads: Michelle Zauner’s memoir, Crying In H Mart. Zauner, a biracial Korean woman, lost her mother when she was only in her mid 50s, and Crying In H Mart is a chronicle of her mother’s brief illness (cancer) and Zauner’s process of grieving in the years that followed. It’s also an exploration of their relationship, which was troubled through Zauner’s early 20s but improved after her mother’s diagnosis. Finally, it’s about Zauner’s relationship with her Korean heritage, specifically Korean food, and how immersing herself in Korean cooking helped her maintain a connection to her mother’s family after her death.
Why I picked it up: I recommended Crying In H Mart to my book club after seeing many positive reviews.
I liked Crying in H Mart a lot, but I didn’t love it. It is an intensely personal memoir, all about Zauner’s feelings about her mother and how she dealt with her grief. She also talks about her father, a man she had a lot of conflicting feelings about (he is not even mentioned in the Acknowledgements) and her sense of having disappointed her parents with her behavior and her ambitions. At times, Crying In H Mart felt almost too personal, like writing the book was very therapeutic for her but might not be all that helpful or interesting for others. Sometimes the book lagged a bit for me. But it’s really hard to criticize someone’s memoir when they have written about such sadness and vulnerability. (Her mother died!) Overall, as a reading experience, I’d say this was good, but not amazing. I like Zauner’s writing and admire what she did, I just didn’t always want to pick it up and delve back into her grief.
I am not a foodie, and I don’t generally like food writing, but I actually liked the food passages here! I even looked up recipes online while reading. I want to try some of them, especially the pine nut porridge that her mother’s friend prepared for her when she was sick from the chemo treatment. Food was such a big part of her mother’s life, and preparing food was her mother’s love language, so it makes sense that Korean dishes were so prevalent throughout the book. If you do like food writing then you’ll really enjoy those sections.
Overall, this was a decent read. I’m kind of glad it’s over, but I suspect I’ll be thinking about it a lot for a while.
Crying In H Mart was the 2nd book of 2022, and it satisfies the Memoir category of the 2022 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.