Book Review: Crying in H-Mart

Kevin Zhu, Staff Writer

When a loved one dear to us dies, very rarely do we ever think about a supermarket. For Michelle Zauner, she thinks of H-Mart, a Korean grocery store chain. 

Crying in H-Mart is a memoir written by a half-Korean telling of her heritage and her story growing up. As the title suggests, one of the main themes of the book is Zauner’s own Korean mother, who after passing, leaves only memories of foods and culture of a land distant, all packed into a supermarket chain mother and daughter would frequent often. 

The grief one feels when a loved one dies is not expressed in heartbreaking lines of poetry, but through simple memories and flashbacks of mother and daughter living everyday life. As the mother learns to be a mother for the first time, so does the child learn to be a kid for the first time. 


Being both Korean and American, Zauner’s experience growing up on the fringe of ethnicity strikes deep within the hearts of immigrants. Feelings of loneliness or isolation and uniqueness in a fragmented identity resonate within anyone from a foreign country, and Zauner communicates this incredibly skillfully. 

Zauner writes of what it means to be human and cements into her memoir a deep theme of coming of age. The broken yet whole identity that anyone, not just someone of Korean descent, learns through growing up is written simply and plainly, with no hidden meanings, just feeling.  


While Crying in H-Mart reached the top bestsellers of New York Times (a title commonly boasted nowadays through marketing tactics), it has its flaws. 

The prose is overwhelmingly bland and simple, which means that while its themes and ideas are sophisticated, its execution is mediocre at best. This is understandable, as Zauner is a singer, not an eighteenth century poet, but it does say something about today’s vast audience of readers. Literary masterpieces rich in complicated nuances and rhetoric are substituted for simple, heartwarming stories in our modern culture. 

It’s also important to know the background behind the book. Crying in H-Mart was originally a short essay (quite well-written) published in the New Yorker, which garnered so much attention that the author, Michelle Zauner, eventually wrote a book expounding upon the ideas in the essay. 

The first chapter of the book opens with that very essay – which is quite short and bittersweet, and leaves behind a sense of melancholy. However, as the book delves deeper into the ideas introduced in the essay, pacing and general quality drops to compensate for a wider breadth of quantity. By the end of the book, the sense of melancholy is only replaced with the dull satisfaction of having finished a decently long read. 


While not a masterpiece, Crying in H-Mart is certainly worth reading for its themes of racial identity, a mother’s love, and what it means to be the best human one can be.