3.5 star, nonfiction

Review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

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.

My friends and I decided to do a bookclub on this book because as Asian Canadians, we thought we might relate. Each person had such a different relationship with their parents and I think that is what the core of this story came down to.

Crying in H Mart is about half-Korean half-white Michelle Zauner, as she gives her plain view on her grief and relationship with her mother and her mother’s death. The story revolves a lot around Korean food and the relationship they shared with food and the memories that created. A rough childhood with tough love quickly turns conflicted when her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, bringing Michelle along an emotional journey where she is forced to confront her feelings for her mother.

This autobiographical book speaks of many tough subjects and really highlights the complexity of familial relationships. Additional complexity is added when relationships change in one way or another. Although ultimately perhaps with a bittersweet ending, the journey was more sombre and the struggles really became real and relatable. Relationships with parents is always something of huge contention, especially depending on what background you come from and how you were raised.

The story overall was quite evocative and really seemed to be spoken from the heart. Many personal struggles were shared and it was almost shocking how much was laid bare. Emotionally very intense (almost like a thriller), but with the added horror of it being real life and not made up. Something about the way she told her story really sucks you in, as if she’s right next to you pouring her heart out to you.

A relatively short book, it’s almost as if you sat down together and she told you the story of her life over a dinner. I don’t usually read nonfiction, preferring the fantasy of literature, but this one told almost like a fiction story, where the realness of the story really added a whole depth to the story. This was a truly reflective piece and really explores a lot about the parent-child relationship. Ultimately I still prefer reading fiction pieces so I didn’t rate this higher, but if you are into non-fiction, definitely check this one out!

Overall Recommendations

Crying in H Mart is an autobiographical story about a half-Korean half-American girl struggling through her identity throughout life. However, more importantly, it is a story about her relationship with her mother, and how she has come to think about it after her mother’s untimely passing. A truly reflective piece full of emotional turns and twists, this is a book where emotions run high and the story is real, and becomes quite the page turner. It’s hard to turn away even as you know what will happen, and if you enjoy stories that really explore complicated relationships, this may be the one for you.


8 thoughts on “Review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner”

  1. I’ve seen this all over bookstagram but had no clue what it was about. Now you’ve described it I think I’ll have to get a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ahhh i love your review so much and am glad you liked the book!! IT’S BEEN ON MY TBR SINCE LITERALLY FOREVER, but sometimes I run away from books that are supossed to make you cry, SO I HAVEN’T READ IT YET??

    Liked by 1 person

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