I read somewhere that it’s obvious Zauner wrote this book for herself, and after finishing this last night in a frenzy of insomnia and just straight-up being enraptured, I can see how that would be the case.
Crying in H Mart uses food, travel, and family to explore Zauner’s sometimes-strained relationship with her Korean mother as they navigate the harsh world of terminal cancer together. Her immaculate storytelling would touch anyone, but is morbidly therapeutic for those of us who have also had to watch a mother figure die.
For me, it was my oma, who lived next door for most of my life and was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2014. It was a quick process watching a self-sufficient 90-year-old degenerate into someone whose daughter (my mom) had to change her colostomy bag and dress her for bed. It’s something I both wish I never had to see and yet somehow appreciate regardless; the circle of life is precious and taking care of someone who took care of you is a strange but inevitable role reversal that feels ignored by American society. Thankfully, this books gifts us that discussion and brings to the forefront that mortality is worth talking about.
Though not the same (my oma lived a long, full life, whereas Zauner’s mother was still young), my experience allowed me to commiserate with Zauner, whose writing often brought me to tears as I remembered all the feelings around helping someone in their last moments while pretending those weren’t their last moments. The frustration, the sadness, and yearning to know more about them and yourself after they’re gone are all very real feelings that should be discussed, but it feels like we don’t know how. Zauner allows us to feel those feelings in a genuine, sweet way that acknowledges love takes shape in many ways, even if relationships aren’t perfect.
Note: I read this book as Feminist Book Club‘s January 2022 pick.