Crying in H Mart? More Like Sobbing in H Mart!


David Lee

Michelle Zauner is the lead singer and songwriter of Japanese Breakfast, a popular alternative pop band. After gaining fame, she published her memoir Crying in H Mart.

It’s been a while since I found a novel that has moved me to tears. I don’t cry over books or movies because it’s hard to imagine the depth of these experiences without actually living through them; however, Michelle Zauner’s recounting of her relationship with her mother left me feeling empty with no more tears left to cry. It was certainly not what I expected when I first picked up the novel. 

As a long-time fan of the popular pop alternative band “Japanese Breakfast”, I knew this book was a must-read. After all, their music was one of my major inspirations to start producing my own; however, this book is not about her band. Rather, it is about her connection to traditional dishes and the importance of making them in memory of her loved ones. It shows a side of Zauner that you could never find in her interviews or concerts. Not only is she an amazing storyteller, but she is an inspiration. She has inspired me to start appreciating my own traditional dishes. 

Before Zauner’s band became famous, she tried to make a living through many odd jobs while living with her partner in Pittsburgh. While Zauner was shopping at an H Mart, a popular Asian grocery store chain, she burst into tears right then and there as she was reminded of her mother’s passing a few years prior due to cancer. Zauner reflects on her complicated relationship with her immigrant mother, delving into why she wouldn’t change her relationship for anything. Her mother was the only link to her Korean heritage and identity; without it, she feels as though she has lost a part of herself. 

This novel addresses serious themes. Zauner shares her vulnerable side when she discusses topics that may seem unbelievable to us but were part of her everyday life. Growing up in Oregon, she learns that her mother is not like any other mother. Her mother will not tell her “I love you” or coddle her. Until her mother passes away, Zauner is left with a mother she always saw as cold and bitter. For example, her mother was often stern and distant from her, even if she broke a bone or felt unstable. After seeing what many other families were like in Oregon, Zauner began to hate how her mother did not take care of her. These moments were quite hard to read, especially with the language Zauner used to make every experience an in-depth recount. Sometimes I would read a chapter and not pick up the novel again until I felt motivated to deal with the dread that Zauner incorporated. 

It is important to recognize why she felt like she had lost her identity, which she constantly states throughout the novel. Since her father was white, she relied on her mother to tap into her Korean roots. Many of her favorite memories involve her yearly trips to Korea. They also involve times when she would go to Asian-styled restaurants with her mother to enjoy many of her favorite dishes. For Zauner, familiarity with Korean-style dishes was the main way to be connected with her culture. Ultimately she recognizes that many of these experiences would not happen again because of her mother’s passing. She asks “Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?” Even though she tries to cook the same way her mother had, she feels like something is missing from the dish.  

I recommend this novel to anyone who needs a good cry, loves food, or both. While I only started this novel because I liked the band “Japanese Breakfast”, I can say that this is the best novel I’ve ever read in 2022.