For a while I had seen both the band Japanese Breakfast and the book “Crying in H Mart” float around in the different spheres of the internet I occupy. One day, a couple months ago, I finally had the realization that Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast was the same Michelle Zauner who authored “Crying in H Mart.” Who would have thought? After hearing the umpteenth glowing review of this memoir, I finally decided to read it.
“Crying in H Mart” is a story of grief, specifically revolving around the passing of her mother and how her mother’s life and death is the throughline in her journey on this earth. Zauner is particularly skilled at putting the reader in her shoes, giving you every detail down to the food she ate and what she was wearing. Food is the hallmark of Zauner’s relationship to her mother, because of the connection it gives her to her Korean heritage. Zauner communicates the permanence of loss, never searching for the silver linings but rather describing the concrete ways that grief sticks with you.
The book, published in 2021, originally began as an article Zauner wrote for the New Yorker in 2018, which now serves as the first chapter of the memoir. The article/chapter ends with the following disclosure: “Within the past five years, I lost both my aunt and mother to cancer. So, when I go to H Mart, I’m not just on the hunt for cuttlefish and three bunches of scallions for a buck; I’m searching for their memory. I’m collecting the evidence that the Korean half of my identity didn’t die when they did.” The remainder of the book explores the memories she is on a hunt for.
Michelle Zauner is a spectacular and versatile writer. It shouldn’t have been surprising to see that an excellent songwriter was also an excellent storyteller in other mediums, but for some reason it caught me off guard. She is the narrator of the audiobook (which is how I elected to read this book), and she makes every word feel important.
“Crying in H Mart” is deeply personal to Zauner, but also deeply telling of the human experience. Kristen Martin, in her review of the book published on NPR, sums it up perfectly when she says: “What Crying in H Mart reveals, though, is that in losing her mother and cooking to bring her back to life, Zauner became herself.”