About mini reviews:
Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .
Crying in H Mart is a memoir by Michelle Zauner (she/her) and read by the author. The opening chapter details the foods Zauner’s Korean mother prepared for her, including the ways her mother would instruct her to consume the food. The H Mart in the title refers to a Korean store where Zauner would shop for groceries, but after her mother’s early death from cancer, it is the H Mart where Zauner frequently breaks down with grief.
There is some familiar territory in Zauner’s memoir, namely the feeling that she is not enough for any culture. Her mother is from Korea, where she met Zauner’s father, a white American man. Thus, the summers when Zauner and her mother spend weeks in Korea “prove” Zauner isn’t really Korean, but when she’s in the U.S., people “other” her as a generic Asian person, making inappropriate jokes about her facial features and packed lunches for school.
And yet, what is new is the deep immersion into Korean food, and this is one of the reasons I recommend you listen to Crying in H Mart, in addition to the fact that Zauner reads well, keeping her tone level and voice clear. The names of food on the page cannot come through to a person who does not speak Korean the way it does when Zauner says them. While she did attend Korean school every Friday night, Zauner admits that she cannot speak Korean. And yet, the names of Korean dishes are a permanent fixture in her vocabulary, adding a richness to the memoir.
Although there is much about meals, Crying in H Mart is largely about the death of Zauner’s mother, Chongmi. A stomach pain that Chongmi ignores proves to be cancer. Zauner, whose young adult life has consisted of touring with a band that can’t get a break, which means living in artist poverty, leaves her home on the east coast to nurse her mother in Washington state. There is no romanticization of Chongmi’s experiences with chemo or death, and some of it may be difficult to listen to for readers who have lost and/or nursed a loved one. On the other hand, Zauner tries to make everything perfect for her mother, including a desire to return to Korea and organizing a wedding, which includes getting engaged first. These efforts add a thrilling element to the memoir, as the read more like a movie plot than real life.
An excellent memoir that may be too much for some readers, but is a rich look at Korean culture through food, parent/child relationships, and end of life care.
CW: brief mentions of racism and child abuse