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Crying in H Mart: Book summary and reviews of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart

by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner X
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
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  • Published Apr 2021
    256 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. "My mother was always trying to shape me into the most perfect version of myself" (p. 18). What do Michelle's mother's habits and beliefs reveal about her as a mother? What value do you see in her approach to parenting, and what would you do differently?
  2. How does Michelle's relationship with her mother evolve over the course of the memoir? Compare their relationship with other parent-child relationships in the memoir and with your own experience.
  3. H Marts and local supermarkets are a regular setting in the book. How do these locations shape Michelle's experience of food and family?
  4. Discuss the difficulty of communicating with family members of different generations, who speak another language and come from a different culture. ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Crying in H Mart:

Comment on how Michelle views herself when in Seoul compared to how she views herself in the U.S.
I agree with elise and Elizabeth that Michelle felt beautiful in Korea because she was Western. This created some cognitive dissonance because it contradicted her loneliness that arose from never feeling Korean enough or American enough. She is ... - paulagb

Did the idea of a "scarcity mentality" impact how you think about representation, cultural differences, and community building?
Scarcity mentality may be new verbiage, but Underrepresentation has been around forever. This term did not affect me in reading the book nor did it have an impact on my feelings of what The term means. - arlenei

Discuss the difficulty of communicating with family members of different generations, who speak another language and come from a different culture. How do Michelle and Nami bridge this divide?
I do not have family members who do not speak my native language, but I had two close friends who could not talk easily with their grandmothers. It seems that motivation on the part of both the child and the elder varies a great deal. One of my ... - paulagb

Ethnic dishes are often passed down from one generation to another and can be a touchstone for immigrants.
My grandmother was Italian, and used food to bring and keep the family together. Every Saturday our extended family gathered for spaghetti with homemade sauce from tomatoes that she grew and canned. Every Christmas she made Italian cookies with and ... - kb2021

H Marts and local supermarkets are a regular setting in the book. How do these locations shape Michelle's experience of food and family?
H Mart connected Michelle to her mom and her Korean heritage. Going there brought up the memories of her mom and brought her closr to her. - tswaine

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Media Reviews

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, Time, NPR, Washington Post, Vogue, Entertainment Weekly, Good Morning America, Philadelphia Inquirer, and more

"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 food reverberates in nearly every chapter of this coming-of-age story, [in] sensuous descriptions ... Heartfelt, searching, wise." —AV Club

"Crying in H Mart is a wonder: A beautiful, deeply moving coming-of-age story about mothers and daughters, love and grief, food and identity. It blew me away, even as it broke my heart." Adrienne Brodeur, author of Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me

"The book's descriptions of jjigae, tteokbokki, and other Korean delicacies stand out as tokens of the deep, all-encompassing love between Zauner and her mother ... Zauner's frankness around death feels like an unexpected yet deeply necessary gift."—Vogue

"A candid, moving tribute to her mother, to her identity, and to our collective desire for connection in this often alienating world...Zauner's writing is powerful in its straight-forwardness, though some turns of phrases are as beautiful as any song lyric... but it is her ability to convey how her mother's simple offering of a rice snack was actually an act of the truest love that leaves the most indelible impression."—Refinery 29

"Crying in H Mart is palpable in its grief and its tenderness, reminding us what we all stand to lose."—Vulture

"Incandescent."—Electric Lit
"Poignant ... A tender, well-rendered, heart-wrenching account of the way food ties us to those who have passed." The author delivers mouthwatering descriptions of dishes like pajeon, jatjuk, and gimbap, and her storytelling is fluid, honest, and intimate. When a loved one dies, we search all of our senses for signs of their presence. Zauner's ability to let us in through taste makes her book stand out—she makes us feel like we are in her mother's kitchen, singing her praises.  
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Lyrical... Earnest... Zauner does a good job capturing the grief of losing a parent with pathos. Fans looking to get a glimpse into the inner life of this megawatt pop star will not be disappointed."—Publishers Weekly

This information about Crying in H Mart was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review

Cindy R

Mother - daughter relationship
"Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart. H Mart is a supermarket chain that specializes in Asian Food."

Michelle Zauner honors the life and memory of her late cancer stricken mother and their mercurial relationship, in her memoir, CRYING IN H MART (Knopf). She works through grief by learning how to cook Korean food, which helps her cope and connect with her Korean heritage.

Zauner's is half Korean and the founding member of the band, Japanese Breakfast, which has received two Grammy nominations. Her mother was Korean and her father American. CRYING IN H MART straddles the journey of a complex young woman and the two cultures she grows up in. She was raised in the predominantly white neighborhood of Eugene, Oregon, where she says she was slowly "suffocating from boredom." After college, she left for New York City to pursue her artistic ambitions.

She returns to Eugene when her mother starts to experience the effects of chemotherapy. Zauner's early relationship with her mother was fraught with misunderstandings, arguing and only when her mother gets sick does she struggle to be a good daughter. By learning to cook Korean food, Zauner attempts to uncover the positive moments with her mother, instead of just focusing on the sick woman.

I love reading memoirs and Zauner's touched my heart. Her mother died when Mauner was twenty-five, so her teen years of acting out are fresh in her mind. I could relate to many of her stories. She courageously bares the wounds of caretaking and losing her mother. I knew absolutely nothing about Korean food or culture before reading CRYING IN H MART, and believe I'm better for the exposure.

CRYING IN H MART is being produced as a film by Orion Pictures.

Dorinne Dobson

A Memoir Worth Reading
This is a memoir by Korean-American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Michelle Zauner. This book covers a lot of ground: the relationship between mother and daughter through the years, coping with the emotional distress of learning at a young age (25) that her mother is suffering from an incurable cancer, ultimately coping with the loss of her mother, her grandmother and her aunt within a brief period of time, and throughout it all learning to recreate her love for her lost relatives through the exquisite Korean foods her mother was so skilled at making for her family. This was a very different reading experience for me, but one that I found quite interesting.


A Taste of Korea
“Crying in H Mart” is a heartfelt memoir of a daughter looking back on her relationship with her mother. The story is a recounting of the age-old challenge of a mother and daughter struggling to relate to one another’s worlds and the resulting tensions from differing perspectives and expectations. Beyond generational differences, cultural differences further complicate communication for this Korean-American daughter and her Korean mother. Their one common ground - Korean food which serves as a means to nurture and show love as well as an expression of their cultural identity and sense of self. And, upon her mother’s death, Korean food is a means for the daughter to deal with loss as each dish brings with it a cherished memory.


Cultures Collide in this Korean/American Memoir
The first thing I thought when I saw this book title is: what’s an H Mart? The H Mart, it turns out is a Korean grocery chain and food looms large in this memoir by a young author who is of mixed race (Korean Mother/ American Father). The author‘s mother is desperate to instill Korean food and recipes into her daughter’s American life but hits a brick wall with her “American” teenager.
But fast forward and the mother /daughter bond grows as the daughter enters young adulthood and the mother is diagnosed with a life-changing illness. The daughter becomes the caretaker and tries desperately to repeat the Korean recipes her Mom treasures. (The father is definitely on the sidelines in this memoir).
I haven’t read a memoir in a long time- and glad I got to read this one. My only criticism is that the author did not describe the foods more so that we could visualize the many dishes that she incorporates into the book: how about a couple of Korean recipes that Americans could take on? Or a glossary with food descriptions would help. But don’t let this deter you from a devastating, but hopeful look at a mother-daughter relationship caught up in cross-cultural tension.

Anna Rowe

Very Touching
This book is part grief memoir, part cultural exploration. The author loses her mother to cancer which leaves her feeling empty and unmoored. Her mother was her only connection to her Korean heritage which was demonstrated through her delicious, traditional Korean cooking. Zauner grows up completely taking this for granted until she loses it. The book follows the author through her mother's illness and death and then follows the author's attempt to re-connect with her Korean roots by learning to cook authentic dishes. The book is quite tender and emotional and Foodies will love the descriptions of the cuisine. Crying in H Mart honours Zauner's mother and honours her Korean heritage.

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Author Information

Michelle Zauner Author Biography

Photo: Barbora Mrazkova

Michelle Zauner is best known as a singer and guitarist who creates dreamy, shoegaze-inspired indie pop under the name Japanese Breakfast. She has won acclaim from major music outlets around the world for releases like Psychopomp (2016) and Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017).

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