By Joel Ayala
“Crying in H-Mart” is an emotional memoir by Michelle Zauner. Filled with memories of her mother who had recently passed away due to cancer, Zauner both educates us on Korean culture and reminds us that we are often blinded to the amount of work our mothers do for us.
Before her original short story of the same title in The New Yorker, and then published memoir, Zauner was most known as a Korean-American singer in a band called Japanese Breakfast. The band originally started in 2013 as a side project while she was working at an advertising agency. Her husband Peter Bradley is also a part of this band alongside Craig Hendrix and Deven Craige.
The band was awarded Best Alternative Rock Record of the Year for their album “Jubilee.” The album was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Album of the Year. The band itself was nominated for best new artists at the 64th Annual Grammy awards.
Zauner has proved herself to be creative in many ways through both her music and “Crying in H-Mart,” however.
The book works through how Zauner was able to accept the passing of her mother by revisiting memories of her throughout her life. Zauner shares with us how her mother was a very strict individual who shared her love through food. Her mother didn’t want Zauner to settle for an easy life, rather to do something meaningful. Zauner shares that her grieving process consisted of revisiting the Korean half of her identity. This would include making dishes that her mother would make or the family game nights that they would have.
Zauner prose allows readers to relive those memories with her, putting us in the seat next to her. She incorporates Korean dialogue into many of her stories as a way of sharing her culture with us. “If I walked with a slouch, she’d push a palm between my shoulder blades and command, “Ukgae peegoo!” In this scenario Zauner describes some of the intractable expectations that her mother had for her. Moments like these help us imagine what it was like living in her shoes.
Another aspect of this memoir that stood out to me is Zauner’s humor. She lightens the mood of a very heavy premise by adding humor into the stories that she tells us. When sharing the sad passing of her grandmother, for example, she brings in the irreverent with phrases like “You used to be such a little chickensh*t” and “You never let me wipe your a**”. This is extremely relatable as many of us use humor to deflect our sadness.
This memoir is filled with relatable scenarios where readers can make connections to our personal lives, whether or not we share the same culture. I feel most of us, especially teenagers, start searching for someone to love us at an early age. Some of us seek to find a girlfriend or boyfriend to fill the void of feeling loved. If not we begin to feel alone as it seems that everyone else has a significant other they can turn to to love. However we forget the everlasting love of our mothers. Since day one they made it their mission to never let us forget that they love us. We search for an answer to our problems yet the what we seek has been with us all along, as Zauner illustrates.
Overall this memoir is a touching love story to the author’s mother, and by extension, our own. By sharing the significance that Zauner’s mother had on her life it allowed me to see my mother’s love in the different things that she does for me. Learning about her culture and the different foods that are served was mind opening seeing how it relates to my own culture. The ideas that are taught to us as children were taught to us out of love. The things that our parents do for us is to set us on the right path. Zauner says it best: “No one in this world would ever love me as much as my mother, and she would never let me forget it.”