Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
2021. (cw: death of a parent, cancer, grief, medical content; minor alcoholism, car accident, abortion, racism)
I’ve been meaning to read Michelle Zauner’s memoir for a while. I like her music, Japanese Breakfast, and if the albums Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet are about grief and loss, Jubilee, Zauner says, is about joy.
So then why are these lyrics from “Posing in Bondage” the ones that stick out the most?
When the world divides into two people
Those who have felt pain
And those who have yet to
Crying in H Mart wants you to know what you’re in for from its opening line: “Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.” And: “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?”
There’s a bit of me that wants to compare this with Elizabeth Miki Brina’s Speak, Okinawa, if only for the extremely weak connection: they’re both memoirs by second generation Asian American women searching for and connecting with their mothers’ cultural heritages11 Asian American is first, and mostly, a political identity, and I absolutely recognize how weak this comparison is. The unfortuate situation is Asian American representation is so minimal that you take what you can get.. But Brina’s book is about sturctural forces: imperialism, war, racism and sexual violence, and how they overlay on the personal: intergenerational trauma, addiction, and shame (and at the end, a glimpse of the long, intense process of unpacking and healing). Zauner starts with the interpersonal and stays there, living in it, until the weight it all becomes unbearable.