Crying in H Mart

In the blistering summer of 2016, I made a new friend who I immediately felt like I had known forever. A few days after we had met, she invited me to go to show with her that night for 3 bands I had never heard of at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. The bands were Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast, and Mitski – 3 bands/artists who have since become some of my most cherished and beloved musicians.

All 3 of these artists had unique but deeply evocative approaches to widely different moods and themes in their music: grief, obsession, fantasy, new love, failed loves, and so much more.

Japanese Breakfast is the project of Michelle Zauner, an Oregon/Philadelphia/New York based artist. Her writing and music have always been deeply interconnected – her project, Japanese Breakfast, soared into Indie fame with her first album, Psychopomp, which very explicitly is about exploring her grief of losing her mother, getting married quickly at 25, and the rollercoaster of reshaping her identity that followed.

Zauner recently published her first book, an absolutely stunning memoir of food, grief, her caring for her mother through terminal cancer, and so much more, called Crying in H Mart : a memoir. It is already a New York Times bestseller! Zauner writes on the isolation of growing up as a Korean-American child in small town Oregon and the disconnect from both her Korean and American heritage, having a tense and rocky relationship with her parents as a teenager, and struggling as a musician and creative writing graduate in Philadelphia before returning home to help take care of her mother with her well-intentioned but ill-equipped father. Her writing is charming, funny, and brutally relatable while being entirely her own.

Zauner has such frank openness, humour, and ability to communicate the complexities of family relationships with a grace I have never met, but I am so glad I was able to. There is something so intense that can happen in close mother-daughter relationships, and the way Zauner describes theirs is beyond heart-wrenching.

This book is a scream of love, frustration, and finding little moments of pleasure especially through Zauner’s delicious and incredible descriptions of food. Korean food is at the heart of so many of her relationships, and her process in learning how to make her own kimchi through the help of YouTube star Maangchi as a therapeutic process was especially beautiful.

Nowadays, as we all well know, we have almost all been touched by scares or loss of loved ones from cancer – the devastation and havoc it wreaks can feel surreal, cold, and a million other things. Zauner’s writing wraps you in the love and warmth of blissful memories and experiences, and doesn’t shy away from the moments of pain that make one feel like they’ll never recover. It never really goes away, but as seen in Zauner’s book, this anguish can evolve and must be felt to remember your loved ones and explore parts of yourself you may have left uncovered.

Crying in H Mart is a salve for a heart that is looking to be soothed, a travelogue of vivid scenes and markets and the ghosts of a family home, and it will make you unbelievably hungry for connection, letting your feelings really out, and just incredibly hungry for love, adventure, and a lot of very delicious food.

Check out Crying in H Mart – I assure you, you will cry… a lot. It’s worth it.

— Jackie M.