By Anna Genna
Written by Michelle Zauner (also known by their moniker, Japanese Breakfast), Crying In H Mart, is a memoir of grief, love, and identity. The story follows Zauner as she grapples with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death. People who walk the line between Asian and American culture will see many of their own feelings reflected in this book. In an underrepresented minority, it is strange to see such similar experiences written by someone who is completely unrelated to you.
Grief is an unrelenting concept in this book, as Zauner first mourns the loss of the personality of the mother she knew, and later the loss of her mother in its entirety. She eventually comes to grieve the part of her that she loses with her mother. This grief along with a questioning identity are inexplicably intertwined, as after the loss of someone you begin to realize how much one person is a pillar of an entire side of you. The yearning to regain this identity and person through memories is written by Zauner as: “I’m collecting the evidence that the Korean half of me didn’t die when they did. H Mart is the bridge… it reminds me who they were before.”
The story also tells of Zauner’s childhood, and her relationship with her mother and identity before tragedy struck. Growing up in Oregon, she tells of the overarching pressure to be white, something that many people of color have experienced. Even within Asian beauty standards, many features that can be considered much more Caucasian are treasured. In regards to having double eyelids: “It was the first time I could remember being happy to have inherited something from my father.” Zauner, who had a white father, learned that the Caucasian features that she had were the best of her features.
This book does delve into other topics, like alcoholism and romantic love, but as a White and Asian person who recently lost a pillar of their identity, these parts struck incredibly close to home. That isn’t to say that this story is only relatable to people similar to me; I truly believe this story has something for everyone. Zauner took a common situation of loss, and crafted it into a book that puts those feelings onto paper in eloquent sentences. There is much more to this book that I have not written about, and I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a new read.