Review: “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner and “Fragments of Horror” by Junji Ito

Crying in H Mart

Crying in H Mart

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart might just be one of my favorite reads from 2022. I’ve never listened to Japanese Breakfast/Jbrekkie, AKA Michelle Zauner, the author of Crying in H Mart, but her memoir has definitely been hyped up in my virtual circles for the past few years now. And for good reason! I found myself moved by her unflinchingly honest yet tender portrayals of her mother and her own grief over losing her mother. The prose that guides us through the book is conversational and uncomplicated, speckled with occasional poetic insights. I really loved it.

The book begins with Zauner talking about exactly why she cries at H Mart, a Korean supermarket chain store: it reminds her of her late mother. It touches briefly on her early childhood and music career, but the crux of it is really about how she moved back to her hometown of Eugene, OR to help take care of her cancer-stricken mother.

I’ve never been sure where to place my feelings about food in Asian American memoirs. In literature about diaspora, food is hardly ever just someone nibbling on a burger without any cultural significance. And I get it, food is what nourishes people; it’s a labor of love when you feed someone. Food can be an integral part of someone’s lived experience, their identity. Still, some writers can certainly overdo the symbolism of food like a chewy steak. At its worst, an overdone food description can feel self indulgent and otherizing, as though food itself is a proxy for a culture.

BUT, I didn’t feel this way about Crying in H Mart. I credit it to Zauner’s distinct voice and how specifically she paints her relationships with her family members. Korean food wasn’t just how Zauner connected with her culture; it was how she connected with her ailing mom, whose portrait is complicated yet deeply humane here.

And Zauner dives into the good, the bad, and the ugly when talking about her mother, which is what makes the book so compelling. I think anyone who has a Lady Bird kind of relationship with their mother could identify with the highs and lows between Zauner and her mother. And while touching on broad themes of mother-daughter bonds, grief over losing a parent, and generational trauma, Zauner remains committed to her own story without making any broad generalizations about culture.

I’m really excited to see this memoir get its onscreen adaptation and reading more books by Zauner. This was simply beautiful, and it made me want to be more committed to loving my family, blood and chosen.

Hand holding fragments of horror by a fence

“Fragments of Horror” by Junji Ito

Another library haul favorite that I picked up was Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror, a short collection that isn’t really talked about as much as, say, Tomie or Uzumaki. Shiver and Smashed are some of my favorite Ito collections without an overarching storyline, but Fragments of Horror is definitely an underrated treat, and I found it easier to connect with than The Liminal Zone, which I read over my birthday break.

As the title promises, we get mini short stories throughout the 200-page collection. Because of the short format, Ito’s storytelling feels tighter here. What I loved about these stories is that they felt deeply…human? Many of the stories are about memory and the grotesque things that can emerge from guilt or grief. Not all of the stories worked for me (and some didn’t quite age well). Still, I did really like the book as a whole. My favorite chapters were “Tomio Red Turtleneck,” which follows the plight of an unfaithful man getting tricked by his mistress, and “Gentle Goodbye,” which follows a woman who marries into a family that can summon lifelike “afterimages” of the dead, who eventually fade a way. The latter reminds me a lot of “Real Women Have Bodies” from Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Bodies and Other Parties.

If you’re able to get your hands on a copy of Fragments of Horror, go for it! It’s an intriguing, underrated collection that’s perfect for spooky season without requiring a long time commitment.

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