Crying in H Mart
by Michelle Zauner
image of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Disclaimer: This book review discusses grief and loss. In the recent past, it has been disarming for me to read media that discusses these topics without a warning, and I considered not writing this because it felt too personal. Crying in H Mart is about losing a parent, which is not an experience I want to minimize or exploit, but the project of grief refraction offered by this book seemed more helpful than harmful to me in my personal processing. Writing this all out was heavy, but it did serve me in the end, which is the hope of every review I write. My words were chosen tactfully and precisely in order to fulfill their service to me and not linger too long so as to cross into the realm of oversharing. On that note, read with care.

Since losing my own mom, I have largely kept my distance from grief books because they felt too prescriptive, with the exception of one novel that was just imperceptible enough from my journey through loss to classify it as too close to home. I don’t want to read Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking and I’d rather not claw my way through C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, no matter how many times people with both parents still alive suggest them to me.

But the thing that drew me to Crying in H Mart was that it was written in the direct wake of loss, seemingly in the spirit of running from the fear of never processing it, a fear I have faced myself.

I do not intend to unpack this book intellectually or expound on its form or style. I will comment only on its function for me, which was catharthis. I loved it, and against my own rule, I would recommend it to anyone who has lost a parent.

It was made up of tiny, acute sadnesses blended into a tapestry of diagnostic, capital-S Sadness. It wasn't afraid of facing the heartbreak of losing a parent or the devastating thoughts that surface when you do, and it made me feel seen in mine. It described the way we tuck ourselves into other things in our grief, and how something as biologically necessary as food can you hold you up emotionally and take the first step for you when you wake up each day to remember all over again. It had sentences like, “It didn’t feel like a day on which someone had died,” that felt so reductive yet precise that it made me mad.

This book is an act of communion, of fellowship in remembering. There’s a tenderness in the way Zauner recollects the final few months she had with her mother, delicate in honor yet sober in truth, eerily familiar to anyone who’s gone through something of the same caliber. Watching someone lose autonomy over their body is haunting. It’s something my brain has tried to attach internal words to many times over the past few years but has fallen short of, not because it’s impossible, but because it’s unbearable. But Michelle Zauner took up the opportunity with care and patience, stewarding the chance to grieve and grieve in full.

I know well the desire to talk about my own mom, to keep her around, so to speak. It feels like people should be asking me regularly how I’m doing with it all even now that years have passed. Remind me about my mom, that she was here, that she was alive. Let me write a book about her so I have an excuse to keep grieving, to keep processing. And if I can’t have that, let me instead have a book that gives its author that chance. Because that book is proof that life returns. That death produces something in those who are still living. That the conservation of energy is sustained by both the living and the dead, meaning balanced perfectly between them.