“Crying in H Mart,” Michelle Zauner’s debut memoir, tracks her grief after the death of her mother, with whom she had a complex and sometimes contentious relationship. It was important, she said, to tell the story as honestly as possible.
“I think that I felt like it was best to write it down and see how I felt once it had come out of me,” she said. “It was really a necessary thing to explore with as much grace as possible in order to present the full story.”
The hardest parts to write involved her mother’s health deteriorating, sending her to the hospital during a final family trip to Korea, her mother’s homeland. “It was a real challenge to write about that, but I also felt this real sense of urgency,” Zauner said. “I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about my relationship with my mother.”
After her mother died, she sought refuge in Korean culture and cooking and eating the Korean foods she associated with her mother and her mother’s family. “I feel like as someone who’s not religious or really spiritual, it is like a wonderful ritual to set aside for yourself and interact with memory and grief,” she said. “It’s become a permanent important part of my life.”
Zauner is also a musician fronting a band called Japanese Breakfast, and she’s told the story of her mother’s death in that form as well. “My first two albums were very much rooted in grief and the loss of my mother,” she said. “I am the type of artist who can be vulnerable and open about things sometimes to a scary degree. That’s just always been the kind of art that I connect to.”
She hopes readers will see the love in the book: “I would like people to read it and understand that this is a very complicated relationship and a complicated set of feelings, but ultimately feel like that is a mother and daughter really loving each other.”
Michelle Zauner will read 7 p.m. Wednesday a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.