“Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.” From the moment we read the opening sentence of Michelle Zauner’s poignant memoir, Crying in H Mart, we’re hooked. It’s a rare gift; Zauner perfectly distills the palpable ache for her mother and wraps her grief in an aromatic conjuring of her mother’s presence.
The daughter of a white father and Korean mother in a rural area outside of Eugene, Oregon, Zauner felt closest to her mother when shopping for and eating food together. She shares fond memories of them prowling the aisles of H Mart, the Asian grocery store and food court where she discovered kimchi, rice cakes and tteokguk, a beef and rice cake soup. Growing up, Zauner found that her mother could be distant, but she soon learned that “food was how my mother expressed her love.”
As a girl, Zauner traveled with her mother to Seoul, South Korea, where Zauner met her aunts and grandmother and celebrated life and family with hearty meals. When Zauner was in her 20s, she moved from Philadelphia back home to Oregon to take care of her mother as she died of cancer. As Zauner recounts her mother’s slow, painful decline, she recalls the highs and lows of their life together, often in stories of meals shared with friends and family. After her mother’s death in 2014, Zauner struggled to accept it. She writes, “Maybe we hadn’t tried hard enough, hadn’t believed enough, hadn’t force-fed her enough blue-green algae.”
Crying in H Mart hardly ends in defeat, however. As difficult as her grief is, Zauner celebrates her mother in the very place they shared their most intimate joys, losses and pleasures: H Mart.