Grief Served with Kimchi on the Side: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Parent-child relationships. Phew.

Crying in H Mart,” a wildly popular memoir from Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner, was on just about everyone’s It List last year, and I only wished I hadn’t taken so long to get around to reading it.

It was a send-off book for my daughter, purchased at The Strand when we took her to New York City last January for her internship semester. A must-see touristy-ish stop for me, having her pick that book feels almost serendipitous now that I understand its overarching theme is that of a mother-daughter relationship.

On one hand, I can only hope that our relationship isn’t quite as fraught with drama — from my side, it certainly doesn’t seem that way. Zauner’s very honest, if not scraped raw depiction of a very complicated relationship with her mother is unflinching. Mothers that very intentionally want the best outcomes for their daughters can also be unintentionally harsh. Tough. Demanding.

On the other hand, I can only hope I’ll be lucky enough to maintain the closeness of that same relationship — to want to observe a consistent, permanent space in the other’s orbit, for as long as we are graced with time on this planet. Zauner’s love for her mother, metastacized in her shock at a cancer diagnosis and then borne out in her grief, is palpable. To want to hang on to every sense of a person, from their touch to their smell to the metaphysical. It’s very, very real.

Zauner commentates this journey from being the child to the caretaker to the griever with a very heavy nod to the Koran food experience — the tastes and smells and textures of the culture she grew to love. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but will say this — I find there is often a connection between the stories I read and love that when food is part of the tale, it’s almost as if the narrative has somehow been leveled up. It’s tapping into another love of mine, maybe. I do love food. And it’s only really been in my adulthood that I’ve opened up to trying cuisine from other countries. I grew up very much a hamburger and fries and corn on the cob kind of gal. So I wouldn’t be surprised if I have somehow roped my daughter into trying to make kimchi before she heads back to school this fall.

I may be late to the party on this one, so if you have read it, then tell me what you thought. But if you haven’t, please do. Zauner’s ability to breathe life into the mother-daughter narrative in such a forthright, touching way is what a good memoir is all about.

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