Tastes Like War: A Memoir - book cover
  • Publisher : The Feminist Press at CUNY
  • Published : 18 May 2021
  • Pages : 296
  • ISBN-10 : 1952177944
  • ISBN-13 : 9781952177941
  • Language : English

Tastes Like War: A Memoir


This evocative memoir of food and family history is "somehow both mouthwatering and heartbreaking... [and] a potent personal history" (Shelf Awareness).

Grace M. Cho grew up as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. They were one of few immigrants in a xenophobic small town during the Cold War, where identity was politicized by everyday details-language, cultural references, memories, and food. When Grace was fifteen, her dynamic mother experienced the onset of schizophrenia, a condition that would continue and evolve for the rest of her life.

Part food memoir, part sociological investigation, Tastes Like War is a hybrid text about a daughter's search through intimate and global history for the roots of her mother's schizophrenia. In her mother's final years, Grace learned to cook dishes from her parent's childhood in order to invite the past into the present, and to hold space for her mother's multiple voices at the table. And through careful listening over these shared meals, Grace discovered not only the things that broke the brilliant, complicated woman who raised her-but also the things that kept her alive.

"An exquisite commemoration and a potent reclamation." -Booklist (starred review)

"A wrenching, powerful account of the long-term effects of the immigrant experience." -Kirkus Reviews

Editorial Reviews

"Grace M. Cho's memoir richly braids Korean meals, memories of a mother fighting racism and the onset of schizophrenia, and references ranging from Christine Blasey Ford's testimony to the essays of Ralph Ellison." -Vanity Fair

"Fascinating." -Ms.

"A deft presentation of an uncertain and critically underserved past. . . . In Tastes Like War, Cho has sent a vital current through a history towards a more considered life, a more felt conception of history as it involves us." -Full Stop

"Somehow both mouthwatering and heartbreaking, Tastes Like War is a potent personal history." -Shelf Awareness

"An exquisite commemoration and a potent reclamation." -Booklist (starred review)

"A wrenching, powerful account of the long-term effects of the immigrant experience." -Kirkus Reviews

"Tastes Like War is a compelling reminder that our lives are connected to and reflect the legacies of collective histories and experiences." -International Examiner

"Powerful." -Alta Journal

"As a member of the complicated postwar Korean diaspora in the US, I have been waiting for this book all my life. Tastes Like War is, among other things, a series of revelations of intergenerational trauma in its many guises and forms, often inextricable from love and obligation. Food is a complicated but life-affirming thread throughout the memoir, a deep part of Grace and her mother's parallel journeys to live with autonomy, dignity, nourishment, memory, and love." -Sun Yung Shin, author of Unbearable Splendor

"What are the ingredients for madness? Grace M. Cho's sui generis memoir of her mother's schizophrenia plumbs the effects of colonialism, war, and violence on a Korean American family. By learning to cook her mother's favorite childhood dishes, Cho comes to break bread with the numerous voices haunting her ‘pained spirit.' Cho's moving and frank exploration examines how the social gets under our skin across vast stretches of space and time, illuminating mental illness as a social problem as much as a biological disease." -David L. Eng, coauthor of Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans

"Raw, reaching, and propulsive, Grace M. Cho's Tastes Like War creates and explores an epic conversation about heritage and history, intergenerational trauma and the connective potential of food to explore a mother's fractured past. This is both a memoir and a reclamation."

Readers Top Reviews

NevilleChristine Rag
I’m the author’s brother and I can prove that this book is a work of fiction. Please see my review on Goodreads.
I am almost finished with Cho’s memoir and find it incredibly moving, especially as she describes her mother’s descent into schizophrenia and the ways in which the disease is culturally constructed. Highly recommend.
Karma Boyer
This book is a must read for those of us who felt discriminated against growing up in a small town, even without being a racial minority or having mental health issues. However, it’s especially important to read if you believe that your small town is/was free of prejudice. Grace provides much food for thought in this book.
Thomas D. Kim
The debut memoir is heartbreaking. Grace Cho's mother has agoraphobia situational schizophrenia because of her difficult childhood filled with homelessness, poverty, starvation, her displacement to the United States from Korea, and her treatment from Koreans and Americans as a despised outcast. I tried to discover the name of Cho's mother, but I could not. Another way to separate Cho's relationship with her mother from anyone who reads the memoir as sacred and private.
Gail Dean
I live in the town where she was raised. She was a year younger than my daughter and took piano lessons from the same teacher. I saw her and her parents at piano recitals and never imagined what her life was like.

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