Crying in H Mart: A Memoir is a biographical book by Michelle Zauner. She tells a story of friendship, identity, family, food, and relationships. And at the center of it all is grief because what makes Michelle cry in unexpected places is the sickness and death of her mother.
The H stands for han ah reum, a Korean phrase that roughly translates to “one arm full of groceries”.
Zauner grew up in Eugene, Oregon, a biracial American Asian child who had trouble identifying as either American or Korean. Her parents met when her father was working on a military base in Korea and got married three months later. Her relationship was difficult with both her parents, but she had a bond with her mother that she never had with her father.
I fought the urge to rip my arm away from him. I knew I should be feeling sympathy or empathy, camaraderie or compassion, but I only burned with resentment.On her father:
In high school, Zauner moved out of home because she wanted to be a musician. She moved back in for help during a tough time when she suffered from mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
You want to be a starving musician?” she said. “Then go live like one.”Zauner’s mother
To get away from her parents, Zauner went to Philadelphia for college and remained there when she finished her studies. But when her mother fell sick, she made the decision to go back home to help out. Her only time away was for a tour as a musician. Her mother died of pancreatic cancer.
I remember bursting into tears on the tram listening to a podcast, chatting with friends and telling a story, sitting at home at night, for weeks after my grandmother died. Years later, this seldom happens anymore. I can go to a church, light her a candle, say a prayer, and feel at peace. Church is my H Mart, the place I went with my mother as a child, and where I think of her most.
Within five years, I lost both my aunt and my mother to cancer. So, when I go to H Mart, I’m not just on the hunt for cuttlefish and three bunches of scallions for a buck; I’m searching for memories
Zauner shares how she confronted elements of her identify and discovered slices of belonging. She first experiences this in bites, during six weeks in Seoul every other summer as a child to visit her grandmother and aunts in Korea, eating the food that her mother prepares for her, and then later through learning to cook Korean food as a way of self-soothing, and to show care, affection, and love.
The themes of passion and connection are also strong in Crying in H Mart. Zauner shares her experiences of being a musician, the struggles she faced as a woman person of color. Her choice of pursuing music as a career was an unpopular one with her family, and she had to make the choice of which identify to explore and pursue.
As a human going through the world, if you’ve ever loved anybody, even if it was a challenging love, or maybe especially if, this book will take you on a journey that resonates deeply. And if not that, then you can “enjoy” reading the book, a beautiful story that pays homage to a mother and a connection that doesn’t end in death. You can still get to know someone even when they are no longer physically present. And as a bonus, you can learn how to make a few Korean dishes with the recipes interspersed in the book.
H Mart is where your people gather under one odorous roof, full of faith that they’ll find something they can’t find anywhere else.
One Paragraph Summary of Crying in H Mart by Chat GPT
Crying in H Mart is a memoir by Michelle Zauner, also known as the musician Japanese Breakfast. The book was published in April 2021. It covers her life growing up as a Korean-American, her relationship with her mother, and how she learned to cook traditional Korean dishes. The book also explores Zauner’s grief after her mother’s death from cancer, and how cooking became a way for her to cope with her loss. It also talks about her experiences growing up as a mixed-race child in the United States, and how food and cooking became a way for her to connect with her Korean heritage.
If you read Crying in H Mart, let me know what you think. And continue reading below for spoilers from the book.
On Growing Up (Korean)
When my friends got hurt, their mothers scooped them up and told them it was going to be okay, or they went straight to the doctor. White people were always going to the doctor. But when I got hurt, my mom was livid, as if I had maliciously damaged her property.
This meant a reverence for good food and a predisposition to emotional eatingOn having a Korean appetite
I haven’t believed in a god since I was about ten and still envisioned Mr. Rogers when I prayed, but the years that followed my mother’s passing were suspiciously charmed. I had been playing in bands since I was sixteen, dreamt of succeeding as an artist practically my whole life, and as an American, I felt entitled to it in spite of my mother’s aggrieved forewarnings. I had fought for that dream thanklessly for eight long years, and only after she died did things, as if magically, begin to happen.
…you’ll likely find me crying by the banchan refrigerators, remembering the taste of my mom’s soy-sauce eggs and cold radish soup. Or in the freezer section, holding a stack of dumpling skins, thinking of all the hours that Mom and I spent at the kitchen table folding minced pork and chives into the thin dough. Sobbing near the dry goods, asking myself, Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?On Crying in H Mart
Stop crying! Save your tears for when your mother dies.” This was a common proverb in my household
… discovered that our shared appreciation of Korean food served not only as a form of mother-daughter bonding but also offered a pure and abiding source of her approval
It was difficult to even register that this woman was my mother’s mother, let alone that their relationship would be a model for the bond between my mother and me for the rest of my life.On her grandmother
In the course of one of these biannual visitations, at the age of twelve and nearing the peak of debilitating insecurity, I was confronted by a pleasant new discovery: I was pretty in Seoul.
Every time I ate well or bowed correctly to my elders, my relatives would say, “Aigo yeppeu.” “Yeppeu,” or pretty, was frequently employed as a synonym for good or well-behaved, and this fusion of moral and aesthetic approval was an early introduction to the value of beauty and the rewards it had in store.
As Zauner got older, she got to see her mother not just as a mother, but as a daughter and as a woman too.
She possessed a rare talent for keeping secrets, even from us. She did not need anyone. She could surprise you with how little she needed you. All those years she instructed me to save 10 percent of myself like she did, I never knew it meant she had also been keeping a part of herself from me too.
You don’t know what it’s like to be the only Korean girl at school,” I sounded off to my mother, who stared back at me blankly. “But you’re not Korean,” she said. “You’re American.”
My mother had struggled to understand me just as I struggled to understand her. Thrown as we were on opposite sides of a fault line—generational, cultural, linguistic—we wandered lost without a reference point.
- Seaweed soup is eaten on birthdays to celebrate mothers (which confirms my observations from Korean drama)
- I used to feel bad that I don’t automatically remember the date my grandmother passed away. I know roughly, but not precisely.
My mother died on October 18, 2014, a date I’m always forgetting.
She was fifty-six years old. I was twenty-five