If I had to sum up “Crying in H Mart” with one word, I would call it inspiring. Looking back, I feel like I read the book at just the right time. It was not only relatable but also opened my eyes to new perspectives—namely, the difference between forgiveness and understanding—and also served as reassurance when I found myself in the same situation as the author.
Published in 2021 and written by Michelle Chongmi Zauner, a Korean-American musician known as the lead singer in the band Japanese Breakfast, “Crying in H Mart” is a deeply personal memoir which chronicles her journey through grief and her struggles as she is thrust into adulthood.
I read “Crying in H Mart” over the summer of 2022, after having seen it in English teacher William Martino’s classroom on the last day of my junior year. At first, I thought it could be relatable because it was written by an Asian-American author and I, myself, am Asian-American. However, I soon realized that it was about much more than the Asian-American experience and identity. In the memoir, Zauner writes about how her Korean mother struggled through and eventually passed away from cancer, and the effects the death of a loved one had on her. I found myself relating to many, if not all of her problems.
In “Crying in H Mart,” Zauner describes her relationship with her parents: how her mother raised her with tough love and how her relationship with her father was strained, especially after she found out his secret, and even more so after her mother’s death. She eventually came to the understanding that while she may never forgive them for their actions, she can work towards understanding them as people. This is one of the many lessons I extracted from the memoir. Not only did this lesson become a core part of my college essay, but it also inspired me to try to understand my parents despite their tough love as well.
The most relatable attribute of Zauner’s life for me was her mother’s sickness. In the fall of 2020, my sophomore year, I brought my own father to the emergency room, where he was promptly diagnosed with stage four cancer. Reading this memoir nearly two years after the diagnosis, having lived through months of treatments and caretaking, I saw my own experiences in Zauner’s. Through the administration of medications and milky bags of nutrition, there was familiarity in the physical tasks she described. But, with an even deeper connection, I found similarities between myself and Zauner in her description of the great emotional toll of being a caretaker to someone who is not only a cancer patient but also the one who raised you.
One of the main struggles I experienced was acknowledging the fact that, ultimately, my father would succumb to cancer, no matter what was tried. Reading about how Zauner’s mother eventually refused treatment and chose to let the cancer take its course, and about the feelings she had during that period gave me insight into what was to come for me in the early months of 2023.
After my own father passed away, just a few days after I had last visited him in the hospital, I thought back to “Crying in H Mart,” and how Zauner described grief. “It felt wrong to talk to anyone, to smile or laugh or eat again knowing that she was dead,” she writes. This feeling, while unimaginable during the summer of 2022, suddenly became my reality. After receiving the call, at school no less, I felt numb and lost, avoiding those around me, while refusing to understand why everyone else could act so normally. Just as Zauner had written, everything just felt wrong. It was hard to talk to anyone, and even harder to tell anyone what had just happened. After all, I was the only one who felt the shock of the event.
Remembering the feelings that Zauner wrote about, I felt less alone in the type of emotions I felt. I found that Zauner’s writing was extremely realistic, free from the massive amounts of glossing over that I’d seen in other memoirs. Grief, one of the rawest and hardest emotions to process, is described not only accurately, but also honestly in Zauner’s memoir. Ultimately, it was Zauner’s honesty with her emotions and perspectives that has inspired me to be more honest to myself and the people closest to me.
“Crying in H Mart” is an unforgettable memoir that has become a deeply inspirational force in my life. Never had I imagined that other people’s lives could be so similar to mine. Reading it before my father’s passing gave me insight into what grief would be like and recalling it after helped me realize that I am not the only one on the planet who has experienced these emotions.
And that, I believe, is the beauty of literature. No matter who reads a piece of literature or when they read it, written work will always have some kind of effect on the reader. Through “Crying in H Mart,” Zauner successfully touched my heart and, most certainly, the hearts of many, many more people. Whether it be through music or writing, Zauner will undoubtedly continue to inspire and reach others for many years to come.