Crying in H Mart: A Memoir - book cover
Arts & Literature
  • Publisher : Knopf; First Edition
  • Published : 20 Apr 2021
  • Pages : 256
  • ISBN-10 : 0525657746
  • ISBN-13 : 9780525657743
  • Language : English

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast fame, and author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book, an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.

In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother's particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother's tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band--and meeting the man who would become her husband--her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother's diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.

Vivacious and plainspoken, lyrical and honest, Zauner's voice is as radiantly alive on the page as it is onstage. Rich with intimate anecdotes that will resonate widely, and complete with family photos, Crying in H Mart is a book to cherish, share, and reread.

Editorial Reviews

"Michelle Zauner has written a book you experience with all of your senses: sentences you can taste, paragraphs that sound like music. She seamlessly blends stories of food and memory, sumptuousness and grief, to weave a complex narrative of loyalty and loss." -Rachel Syme

"I read Crying in H Mart with my heart in my throat. In this beautifully written memoir, Michelle Zauner has created a gripping, sensuous portrait of an indelible mother-daughter bond that hits all the notes: love, friction, loyalty, grief. All mothers and daughters will recognize themselves-and each other-in these pages." -Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

"A warm and wholehearted work of literature, an honest and detailed account of grief over time, studded with moments of hope, humor, beauty, and clear-eyed observation. This story is a nuanced portrayal of a young person grappling with what it means to embody familial and cultural histories, to be fueled by creative pursuits, to examine complex relationships with place, and to endure the acute pain of losing a parent just on the other side of a tumultuous adolescence . . . Crying in H Mart is not to be missed." -The Seattle Times
"A profound, timely exploration of terminal illness, culture and shared experience . . . Zauner has accomplished the unthinkable: a book that caters to all appetites. She brings dish after dish to life on the page in a rich broth of delectable details [and] offers remarkably prescient observations about otherness from the perspective of the Korean American experience. Crying in H Mart will thrill Japanese Breakfast fans and provide comfort to those in the throes of loss while brilliantly detailing the colorful panorama of Korean culture, traditions and food." -San Francisco Chronicle

"Crying in H Mart powerfully maps a complicated mother-daughter relationship . . . Zauner writes about her mother's death [with] clear-eyed frankness . . . The book is a rare acknowledgement of the ravages of cancer in a culture obsessed with seeing it as an enemy that can be battled with hope and strength. Zauner plumbs the connections between food and identity . . . her food descriptions transport us to the table alongside her. What Crying in H Mart reveals is that in losing her mother and cooking to bring her back to life, Zauner became herself." -NPR
Zauner's storytelling is impeccable. Memories are rendered with a rich immediacy, as if bathed in a golden light. Zauner is also adept at mapping the contradictions in her relationship with, and perception of, her mother. The healing, connective power of f...

Readers Top Reviews

Biker DogKindle
Simply not a fan. Again; too much of this book about suffering cancer illness. Not a feel good read. Needed more levity snd balance with some happier elements.
Like most people, I came to Michelle Zauner through her band, Japanese Breakfast, so I knew that she was a talented songwriter and musician, but I was unprepared for the beauty of this book as well as the technical skill that she demonstrated. It's a sad story, of course, but this book also offers joy and much food for thought, in both the figurative and literal senses. Not to be missed.
As a biracial Korean woman who grew up in Salt Lake, this book hit close to home and my heart. I appreciate Michelle’s vulnerability. I read this book in 2 days. I highly recommend it. A book about the bond you have with your mother, growing up in between two cultures, family dynamics, bonding over food, and trying to find your place or way in this world makes it relatable to many.
Lauren Beyer
Thank you for sharing your life's story with us, Michelle. I stumbled upon your essay after growing smitten with you and your band after watching a few of your live performances on YouTube. When I discovered the book, I immediately preordered it being so moved by the essay. I can relate a lot to your upbringing as my mom is an immigrant of this country as well and her native food brought us close growing up. I loved how the book weaves back and forth between the heaviness of those moments leading up to the loss of her mother and their experiences growing up together as mother and daughter and then the modesty in which she speaks about her success later on. Life goes on and we can move with purpose with the memory of the ones we mourn and Michelle explains that delicately.
I was extremely excited for this book and it did not disappoint! I received it and read it within 36 hours, as it was hard to put down. I have a strong love for Korean culture and enjoy cooking a wide variety of Korean dishes in my own kitchen. Each time I read about one of the dishes, I could imagine my last time cooking or experiencing it. Michelle also describes memories and emotions invoked by these dishes and it instantly connected with me. Michelle’s description of being Korean American and some of the hurdles she has experienced have never been more pertinent. What really made this book amazing was the emotional story of Michelle and her mother’s relationship throughout their lives, sharing Korean dishes together that form lasting memories, and the impact her mother’s cancer treatments and death had on the her. I found myself in tears on multiple occasions, in the best way possible.

Short Excerpt Teaser

Maangchi and Me
Whenever Mom had a dream about shit, she would buy a scratch card.
In the morning, on the drive to school, she'd pull wordlessly into the 7-Eleven parking lot and tell me to wait while she kept the car running.
"What are you doing?"
"Don't worry about it," she said, grabbing her purse from the back seat.
"What are you going to buy at the 7-Eleven?"
"I'll tell you later."
Then she'd come back with a handful of scratch cards. We'd drive the last few blocks to school, and she'd scrub off the gummy film with a coin on the dashboard.
"You had a poop dream, didn't you?"
"Umma won ten dollars!" she'd say. "I couldn't tell you because then it doesn't work!"
Dreams about pigs, the president, or shaking hands with a celebrity were all good-luck
dreams-but it was shit in particular, especially if you touched it, that was license to gamble.
Every time I had a dream about shit, I couldn't wait to ask my mom to buy me a scratch card. I'd wake up from a dream about accidentally shitting my pants or walking into a public bathroom to find some extraordinarily long, winding shit, and when it was time to drive to school I'd sit quietly in the passenger seat, hardly able to contain myself until we were a block away from the
7-Eleven on Willamette Street.
"Mom, pull over," I'd say. "I'll tell you why later."
Shortly after we returned to the States, I started having recurring dreams about my mother. I'd suffered one such episode before, when I was a paranoid kid, morbidly obsessed with my par­ents' deaths. My father is driving us across Ferry Street Bridge and to skirt traffic up ahead, he maneuvers the car onto the shoulder, weaving through a gap under construction and aiming to vault off the bridge onto a platform below. Eyes focused on the mark, he leans in close to the steering wheel and accelerates, but we miss the landing by several feet. The car plunges into the rushing current of the Willamette River and I wake up breathing heavily.
Later, when we were teenagers, Nicole told me a story she'd heard from her mother about a woman who suffered from recur­ring nightmares that all revolved around the same car accident. The dreams were so vivid and traumatic that she sought a therapist to help her overcome them. "What if, after the accident, you try to get somewhere," the therapist suggested. "Maybe if you try to get yourself to a hospital or some kind of safe place, the dream will reach a natural conclusion." So each night the woman began to will herself out of the car and crawl further and further along the side of the highway. But the dream kept coming back. One day the woman really did get into a car accident and was supposedly found dragging herself across the asphalt in an attempt to reach some nebulous location, unable to distinguish reality from her lucid dreaming.
The dreams about my mother had small variations, but ulti­mately they were always the same. My mother would appear, still alive but incapacitated, left behind someplace we had forgotten her.
In one I'm alone, sitting on a well-manicured lawn on a warm, sunny day. In the distance I can see a dark and ominous glass house. It looks modern, the exterior made up entirely of black glass windows connected by silver steel frames. The building is wide, mansion-like, and sectioned off in squares, like several monochro­matic Rubik's Cubes stacked next to and on top of one another. I leave my patch of grass, making my way toward the curious house. I open its heavy door. Inside, it is dark and sparse. I wander around, eventually making my way toward the basement. I run my hand along the side of the wall as I descend the staircase. It is clean and quiet. I find my mother lying in the center of the room. Her eyes are closed and she is resting on some kind of platform that's not quite a table but not a bed either, a kind of low pedestal, like the one where Snow White sleeps off the poisoned apple. When I reach her, my mother opens her eyes and smiles, as if she's been waiting for me to find her. She is frail and bald, still sick but alive. At first I feel guilty-that we gave up on her too soon, that she'd been here the whole time. How had we managed to get so con­fused? Then I'm flooded with relief.
"We thought you were dead!" I say.
"I've just been here all along," she says back to me.
I lay my head on her chest and she rests her hand on my head. I can smell her and feel her and everything seems so real. Even
though I know she is sick and we will have to lose her again, I'm just so happy to discover that she is alive. I tell her to wait for me. I n...