The loss of your mother is tough. Whether it’s through death, a fight, abandonment, etc., it is something we all have or will go through at some point in our lives. Michelle Zauner’s mother died of cancer in her mid-20’s, and this book works through that grieving process, which involved the memories surrounding and the cooking of (mostly) Korean foods.
Michelle shows how food was important to her culture and family growing up, how certain meals called back to times her mother and her went out together, or visited Korea where Michelle could see her mother as she may have been as a child. It also involves Michelle learning certain dishes while her mother is sick, hoping the food will heal her through sheer positivity, and after her death, where it makes her feel closer to her mother than she may have been years prior to her passing.
This book had me in tears a lot. It will have you in tears for Michelle and will have you in tears for yourself and your own mother. In the middle of this book, I needed to order Asian food, staring at my DoorDash app with tears streaming down my face, in an attempt to get my sh*t together for a minute, to live in a reality where this book hadn’t broken my fragile spirit.
At the same time, this book was uplifting. It gave you stories of Michelle re-evaluating those harsh teen memories one could have with their mother, where you rebel against their love and care for bigger priorities (like drinking in a random neighbor’s car to feel something!). It held stories of real love shared between Michelle and her boyfriend/husband Peter, and Michelle getting to do music for real instead of needing to submit to a corporate world like her mother assumed she would have to.
There is also a bit of this book I could not understand fully as a white person, honestly. I can certainly be empathetic and sympathetic to Michelle’s woes of growing up half-Asian, being half in and half out both Korean and American cultures/ideals, with strangers praising Michelle in Korea for her looks, yet seemingly scorning her in America for not being “white enough” or “Asian enough”. Those parts of the book for me were eye-opening. I feel we do not have a lot of Asian-American women telling their stories (or people allowing them to do so in a large space). I hope more stories come about now, and also bring about more Asian musicians in the mainstream music industry.
I would tell you, if you’re interested in a semi-quick, interesting, tear-inducing, hopeful read, go for this book. Just be prepared to Google where the F your local H-Mart is so you can show up with this book begging for help with your own cooking (they can also ship stuff to your house FYI).