We’ve been fans of Michelle Zauner—known frequently in the musical world by the name of her acclaimed solo project, Japanese Breakfast—for several years now, digging happily into dreamy indie albums like Psychopomp and Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Said solo project had its origins in a dark period of Zauner’s life, though, penning songs while she watched her mother slowly die of cancer in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Now Zauner is tackling her personal expression from a different direction, with publisher Knopf announcing today that it’s acquired a new memoir from her, Crying In H-Mart. Tackling Zauner’s memories of her late mother—as well as her Korean-American heritage—the book is a full-length expansion of a New Yorker piece of the same name that Zauner wrote last year.
Like her music, Zauner’s short-form piece is deeply personal while still being eminently welcoming, interspersing context for cultural differences while never losing focus on the particular details of the relationship with her mom. In it, she reflects on the ways that H-Mart—a national supermarket chain catering to Asian-American, immigrant, and first generation tastes—represents a particular form of home.
My grief comes in waves and is usually triggered by something arbitrary. I can tell you with a straight face what it was like watching my mom’s hair fall out in the bathtub, or about the five weeks I spent sleeping in hospitals, but catch me at H Mart when some kid runs up double-fisting plastic sleeves of ppeong-twigi and I’ll just lose it. Those little rice-cake Frisbees were my childhood: a happier time, when Mom was there and we’d crunch away on the Styrofoam-like disks after school. Eating them was like splitting a packing peanut that dissolved like sugar on your tongue. I’ll cry when I see a Korean grandmother eating seafood noodles in the food court, discarding shrimp heads and mussel shells onto the lid of her daughter’s tin rice bowl. Her gray hair frizzy, cheekbones protruding like the tops of two peaches, tattooed eyebrows rusting as the ink fades out. I’ll wonder what my Mom would have looked like in her seventies—if she would have the same perm that every Korean grandma gets as though it were a part of our race’s evolution. I’ll imagine our arms linked, her tiny frame leaning against mine as we take the escalator up to the food court.
Japanese Breakfast isn’t having any less busy of a year; Zauner is gearing up for a spring tour across the U.S., and has a video playing as an official selection at this year’s SXSW.