Crying in H Mart
By Michelle Zauner
256 pp. Knopf. $27.
I had no idea when reading this that Michelle Zauner was the musician behind Japanese Breakfast, which I only recently became familiar with, though not in conjunction with this book.
I think that’s worth noting so you know I’m no fanboy and my review for this book isn’t based on any sort of feeling towards the musical group — while I like her music, I love her book.
Sometimes my love is easily won. By working in descriptive, mouth-watering passages about food, for example. Here Zauner talks about her relationship with her mother largely through the lens of Korean cuisine, and the parade of Korean dishes that appear in these pages had me googling the closest Korean restaurant.
Through its use of food as a way to talk about identity, love, and grief, “Crying in H Mart” put me in mind of the great Mexican novel Like Water for Chocolate, though stylistically the two are worlds apart. This is no novel, and there’s no magical realism here, though there is plenty of magic in the way Zauner so eloquently transfers her grief over her mother’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent descent into illness onto the page.
Zauner seeks to come to grips with the loss of her mother by no longer rejecting but embracing her Korean identity. This manifests itself in Zauner’s struggle to make the dishes of her childhood just like her mother did.
“Crying in H Mart” comes at a time of increased hate crimes against Asian Americans and I can think of no better book that should make it onto Americans’ reading list than this one.
By sharing her tears with us, Zauner shows that while we all might define “comfort food” differently, sorrow is a dish that unites us all.