Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: Like mother, unlike daughter

The musician’s memoir about her fraught relationship with her dying mother is astute

Michelle Zauner. Photograph: Barbora Mrazkova

Michelle Zauner. Photograph: Barbora Mrazkova

Michelle Zauner’s new book shows that the lauded lyricist of indie-pop band Japanese Breakfast is capable of impressing in longer-form writing. First there was the 2018 essay of the same name in the New Yorker, a viral online hit. Now there is this multifaceted and astute memoir that delves deep into the complicated relationship she had with her mother, who died from cancer when Zauner was 25. Crying in H Mart is at once a testament to a lost loved one, a charting of the ravages of terminal illness and a celebration of a mixed-race heritage that helps one young woman manage her grief. 

As a child, Zauner longed for a mother who would comfort and nurture her, the all-American mom of her friends and schoolmates. Instead, her mother was competitive, angry and prone to grudges. There was little sympathy, constant friction. If Zauner hurt herself playing, her mother was “livid, as if I had maliciously damaged her property”. 

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