Bingo 6: Libations
I’m reasonably sure I heard about Crying in H-Mart during an NPR interview with the author. It sounded pretty interesting and food-focused. Then after picking it up, with the red cover with a picture of noodles between chopsticks, I read the first essay, and then actually went to the nearest H-Mart (about an hour away as it turned out).
The author’s H-Mart is quite different. I’m not complaining about that, but it does get to the incredibly personal nature of the book; it’s not really a food book; it’s most definitely a collection of personal essays, organized as a memoir of sorts.
The first essay is the one after which the book is named, and it really makes the connection between food and memories, a not-new concept, but as I just noted, the very personal nature is definitely there. After this first essay, we backtrack to the author’s youth and proceed forward. Her relationship with her mother who we know from early one is going to die of cancer at a relatively young age, is central. It’s also presented as incredibly toxic and negative. While recognizing the negatives and positives is a part of the grieving process, which this book sort of documents, I came out of it really not liking either the author or her parents. The focus seems so much on the bad times and emotions, and once in a while food gets mentioned as a part of the Korean heritage that the author also explores throughout the book.
The opening and closing of the book are the most food-focused, and those I kind of liked because there are descriptions of the food, but also the discussions of the meaning and the thoughts and feelings that come with trying to connect with people and culture using food. These two essays in particular paid a good bit of attention to things that a random reader like me could get, and then attached the author’s meaning to them. This works out just fine. Food and memory and emotion are connecting most anyone can understand. Honestly, it felt kind of like the personal part was too much because the good times that could help balance characters for someone who doesn’t know the people IRL aren’t there, parts of the story, like what happens with Michelle’s dad after their trip after her mother dies, are also left out, and again, the problem that if I don’t actually know the people involved, the story and the people aren’t complete. It’s like me telling someone that every April 15, I go for ice cream in memory of my late father, but if you didn’t know him or family memories of him, that wouldn’t mean a whole lot to you.
I’m not trying to discount the author’s real experiences or feelings, but if you’re going to write a book sharing them and expect people to really get it, then it would be honestly useful to include some stuff that may be obvious to you, but not so much to the rest of the world.