Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Nonfiction Review: Crying in H Mart

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner has been one of the most popular books this year and is on many Best Books of 2021 lists. My husband gave it to me for my birthday this summer, and I couldn't wait to tackle it for Nonfiction November. It was just as moving and powerful as I'd heard, and I enjoyed this heart-breaking story of a mother-daughter relationship, set against the backdrop of Korean food and culture.

The author is Korean-American, born in Korea to a Korean mother and an American father. They moved back to the United States when she was very young and ended up settling in Oregon. Michelle had a complicated relationship with her mother, who clearly loved her very much but could also be very hard on her and demanding. She held her daughter to high standards. During her teen years, Michelle went through a typical adolescent rebellion, beginning to play music in a band and moving away from her mother emotionally. After college across the country in Philadelphia, she began to reconnect with her mother. She also met the man who would become her husband. At twenty-five years old, just as Michelle felt like she was beginning to get her life together and enjoy her mother's company again, her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, endured horrible treatments, and soon died. Throughout their relationship, from early childhood to the end of her mother's life, Korean food and culture (and Korea itself) provided common ground for the mother and daughter, and after her mother's death, Michelle turned to these familiar things for comfort and healing.

As with most memoirs, a plot summary doesn't even begin to convey the full story. Michelle's writing is evocative and immersive, especially for someone so young, and she tells her story with a great deal of raw emotion. Reading it made me smile and tear up ... and so miss my own father, who died of melanoma six years ago. Here, she describes in one sentence the complexity of her relationship with her mother:

"There was no one in the world that was ever as critical or could make me feel as hideous as my mother, but there was no one, not even Peter, who ever made me feel as beautiful."

There is plenty of emotional depth here but also such vibrant details about her visits to Korea and about the food her mother, and later she, cooked. Most of it was unfamiliar to me, but her descriptions are so rich and vivid, I could almost taste the flavors. So, for both memoir lovers and those who enjoy food writing (or both!), this is a powerful, beautifully written book.

239 pages, Alfred A. Knopf

Random House Audio

One of my favorite podcasts, Happier with Gretchen Reuben, chose Crying in H Mart  for its book club this summer and interviewed Michelle Zauner in Episode 334. You can listen to it here or in our favorite podcast app. I've been saving it and will be listening to it tomorrow!

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, read by the author, and/or download it from Audible. It sounds great - I always enjoy listening to memoirs read by the author and this excerpt explains the book's title and essence.


You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


Or you can order Crying in H Mart from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I liked this memoir as well though it had too much food-talk for me. But, the relationship aspects were powerful.

    1. I wasn't familiar with all the foods - and some didn't sound all that appetizing to me! - but it helped me appreciate the link to her family and her culture.