Crying H Mart Summary
Crying in H Mart is a 2021 memoir in which Korean American writer and musician Michelle Zauner recounts the death of her mother from cancer.
- Zauner has a loving but complicated relationship with her Korean mother, Chongmi, who is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when Zauner is twenty-five.
- After the diagnosis, Zauner moves home to Oregon to care for Chongmi and later accompanies her parents on her mother’s final trip to Seoul.
- Zauner marries her boyfriend, Peter, shortly before her mother’s death. Afterward, she travels to Seoul again, where she bonds with her mother’s sister.
Last Updated on April 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1100
Zauner’s opening chapter explains the title of her memoir, as she describes why she cries in H Mart. The titular store is an Asian grocery chain, and when she goes to one of these markets, Zauner thinks of her mother, who passed away of cancer in 2014. This chapter sets up many of the themes of the text, establishing how important food was to Zauner’s relationship with her mother and how her mother connected Zauner to her Korean heritage. In the subsequent chapters, Zauner moves between recalling her childhood, teen, and young adult memories, and narrating her mother’s cancer experience and how their bond developed during those harrowing months.
Zauner’s parents met in Korea, when her American father took a job in Seoul and met his future wife, Chongmi, at the hotel where he was staying. After marrying and having Michelle, the family moved to Oregon, after Zauner’s father’s brother offered him a job. Their home in Oregon was in a rural area and was isolated, meaning Zauner spent most of her time as a young girl in her mother’s company. She observed her mother’s meticulous house-cleaning and skin-care rituals, only learning later on a trip to Korea that her mother’s seeming obsession with appearance was rooted in Korean beauty standards. On that trip to Seoul, she realized she was considered beautiful because she has a small face and the double eyelid that Koreans covet. Zauner recalls how much she loved her visits to Seoul with her mother because she got to sleep in the same bed with her mother, was able to experience a bustling city environment, and spent time with her cousin Seong Young and other family members.
As a high school student, Zauner struggled to identify a potential career or passion until she discovered how much she loves music. Partially influenced by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a Korean American singer, Zauner learned to play guitar and began to write songs. Her mother was doubtful that this hobby would turn into a viable career, and Zauner was devastated that her mother seemed to not believe in her. Their relationship was tense when Zauner was in high school, a difficult time for her both in terms of her family life and her own sense of self. After graduating, Zauner sought to move away from her parents and chose to attend Bryn Mawr in Philadelphia. She earned a creative writing degree and worked on her music; a friend even encouraged her to record her original songs. She met her future husband, Peter, after college, and though they started as friends, Peter eventually returned her feelings, and they built a serious relationship.
When Zauner was twenty-five, her mother was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Despite her parents’ admonitions, Zauner dropped everything to go to Oregon and care for her mother. Her mother, Chongmi, tried to remain upbeat so Zauner wouldn’t worry, but once her chemotherapy treatments began, it was clear that she was suffering. Zauner stayed by her mother’s side, cooking for her and managing everyday tasks that her mother could no longer perform. She advocated for her mother when Chongmi experienced extreme effects from her chemotherapy, insisting she go to the hospital after her personality changed and she stopped speaking.
Though some adjustments were made to her second round of chemo, Chongmi still felt deleterious side effects, and her doctor found that the chemo had not worked to heal her cancer. Knowing her younger sister Eunmi endured twenty-four rounds and still passed away, Chongmi decided to undergo no more chemo. However, she wanted to take one...
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last trip to Seoul, so she and her husband traveled there. When Zauner arrived later, she discovered that the trip had been very difficult on Chongmi’s body and that she needed medical attention. They again hospitalized her, and the family began to wonder if she would ever leave because her situation seemed so dire. Chongmi suddenly recovered some strength, though. To give her mother something to look forward to, and to also fulfill Zauner’s own desire to have her mother at the wedding, Zauner and Peter decided to marry in Oregon. The planning did seem to cheer and enliven Chongmi, and they held a small ceremony in the backyard of Zauner’s parents’ house.
After the wedding, though, the family returned to the harsh reality that Chongmi would not live much longer. She was in enormous pain, and though they had some help from Chongmi’s friends, Zauner’s father did not assist, and much of Chongmi’s care fell on Zauner herself. Zauner notes that they were basically waiting for her mother to die. At a certain point, Chongmi stopped speaking, and they knew the end was near. Zauner worried that she and her father would have nothing in common after Chongmi’s death, and she was forced to negotiate her feelings about that along with her immense grief at losing her mother. Chongmi died in the middle of the night, and Zauner, Joel, and Peter gathered on the bed with her body before calling hospice. Zauner delivered the eulogy at the funeral and arranged for a headstone that described Chongmi as “Lovely Mother, Wife, and Best Friend.” Two weeks after Chongmi’s death, Zauner and her father tried to distract themselves with a trip to Vietnam. Though they enjoyed some great cuisine and stayed in luxurious hotels, they did not feel any better than before they left, and they also had an argument that threatened to doom their relationship in the future.
Returning home from Vietnam, Zauner worked to go through her mother’s belongings and began to try to cope with her loss by making various Korean dishes, culminating in her mastery of kimchi. Zauner and Peter traveled to Seoul and other parts of Korea for their honeymoon, which allowed them to spend time with her aunt Nami and her family. Zauner found this time particularly therapeutic despite the language barrier between herself and Nami. Zauner’s father put the house in Oregon up for sale and moved to Thailand. Meanwhile, Zauner’s album was a hit, and she began touring with her band, which included Peter. They ended up in Seoul on their Asian tour, and Zauner felt blessed to be performing in her mother’s hometown. She hoped Chongmi would be proud that her dream career had become a reality. She bonded further with Nami, and the memoir closes with them singing a favorite song of Nami and Chongmi’s together at karaoke.