Monday, 24 October 2022

Crying in H Mart - Michelle Zauner (2021)


Rating: Admirable

Crying in H Mart has made quite an impact since it was published last year, spending almost a year on the New York Times best-seller list and earning rave reviews around the world. The memoir deals with Zauner's relationship with her mother, her wider family and her mother's early death from cancer. Such themes are universal and Zauner, a musician and writer, deals with them in a straight-forward and honest manner, which are two reasons why this book has struck a chord with so many readers. Such books are also important culturally, as they give a voice for difficult themes that most people encounter in their life-times; it's either a preparation, or a point of recognition. Zauner delves deeply into her difficult childhood, during which relations with her demanding mother were strained. Her mother's illness is portrayed as a chance for her to repair relations before it is too late, but it also explores what is like to be part of a 'mixed-race' family, trying to fit into a culture (America) that is not always at ease with multiculturalism. Such themes makes for good reading fodder for book clubs, and in this case opinions ranged from dislike, to indifference, but also to acknowledgement and appreciation. Such variation of opinions makes for an interesting discussion, particularly when there are some differences of opinion when it comes to the morality of memoirs; are they exploitative and are they simply ego indulgences of the author? The jury was out....

Zauner is a competent writer and throughout the memoir her writing is good enough, without being exceptional. When it comes to a bookclub read I've always considered that, with my interest levels being usually low with such books, a sure sign of an exceptional book is that it can make me both interested and make me want to pick-up the book to read whenever I possibly can. Sadly, however, Crying in H Mart did not pique my interest in this manner. Despite the poignant themes and the worthiness of the memoir, I just couldn't fully engage and I ended up speed-reading the second half of the book. This is never a good sign for any book, but even so I acknowledge that it wasn't wholly the fault of Zauner, I just think that it wasn't for me, in particular regarding the constant references to Korean cuisine, which is central to the memoir. Am I heartless, or not dedicated to other peoples' stories enough? Actually, I just think that too many other cultural pursuits are attracting my interest at the moment (Spiritual Jazz, The Sopranos and buying up all the amazing CDs no-one wants because they are supposedly dead). I have to admit, Crying in H Mart, I just wasn't that into you. 

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