Step into the world of Michelle Zauner, a Korean American woman who has shared her raw and emotional journey of growing up in a predominantly white community in Oregon, struggling to meet her mother’s high expectations, and finding solace in her grandmother’s small apartment in Seoul.
In this discussion guide, I will be exploring some amazing book club questions for Crying in H Mart, and this is going to help us learn more about Michelle’s touching story of self-discovery, loss, and the powerful bond between a mother and daughter in the most bleakest of times.
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Crying in H Mart Book Club Questions
- Food, particularly Korean cuisine, to be specific, is a central theme throughout the memoir since it serves as a way for Zauner and her mother to connect from an emotional point of view. Now, do note that food is also a way for Zauner to reconnect with her mother after her death, as she begins to learn traditional Korean dishes and make kimchi as a form of therapy.
What’s your take on this way food has been given a special status in the novel? How does this theme of good food, especially Korean cuisine, resonate with you?
- Zauner’s relationship with her father became strained after her mother’s death. The two went on a trip to Vietnam, during which old hurts surfaced, and Zauner found it difficult to forgive her father’s failures as an able dad and husband. After the trip, her father got into a car accident while drunk, and within a year, he sold the family home and moved to Phuket to be with another woman, further straining their relationship.
A lot of us are not lucky enough to have a good relationship with our parents. As a daughter, if you were in place of Zauner, how would you have reacted to this situation? Also, if you would like to share any personal stories related to bad parenting, feel free to do so.
- Music played a significant role in Zauner’s healing process. After her mother’s death, Zauner started writing and playing music again, eventually recording her first album titled “Psychopomp.” The album was written in honor of her mother and allowed Zauner to process her grief and connect with her Korean heritage. Going on tour in Asia, including a final stop in Seoul, was also a way for Zauner to honor her mother’s spirit and find healing through music.
Based on references from Zauner’s life, discuss the role of passion/hobby in healing from trauma/sadness in one’s life.
- After her mother’s death, Zauner made a conscious effort to connect with her Korean heritage. She learned traditional Korean dishes, including how to make kimchi, and sought out a popular Youtuber, Maangchi, to perfect her techniques. Zauner’s trip to Seoul to visit her aunt, Nami Emo, was also a way for her to connect with her Korean heritage and find the ability to heal from her past.
What are your key takeaways from Zauner’s journey throughout the memoir, especially concerning the importance of human connection to one’s culture and heritage?
- Travel plays an essential role in the book, as Zauner takes trips to both Vietnam and Seoul after her mother’s death. One saw a happy ending, while the other was fraught with tension and chaos.
However, based on Zauner’s story, travel can be seen as a form of therapy and rejuvenation. Do you agree? If yes, how.
- At the beginning of the book, Michelle Zauner describes her relationship with her mother, Chongmi, as strained due to her strict and demanding nature. However, as the book progresses and Chongmi is diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment, Zauner’s relationship with her mother slowly begins to change.
Discuss the subtle way in which Zauner’s relationship with her mother changes throughout the book.
- Dealing with her mother’s illness and death had a profound effect on Zauner, and she came to see her mother in a more nuanced and empathetic way. She saw her mother’s perfectionism and stubbornness as part of a larger picture of a woman who was deeply committed to her family and culture. She also discovered her mother’s art and the hundreds of photos she had saved of Michelle’s childhood, which helped her see how important motherhood was as a driving force in her mother’s life and how Michelle is a manifestation of her mother’s legacy.
This made me realize that we know the true value of humans only after they are gone. Do you agree?
- Chongmi Zauner’s art and Korean heritage played a significant role in her relationship with her daughter. Although she was a homemaker and mother for most of her adult life, Chongmi turned to art later in life and showed a talent and dedication that impressed her daughter. Her love for Korean culture also had a strong influence on her daughter, who later turned to Korean food and music as a way to connect with her heritage and honor her mother’s memory.
Based on this context, discuss how art, heritage, and culture can have a profound impact on real-life relationships.
- Zauner comes to understand and reconcile with her mother’s legacy through a process of grief and catharsis. While Michelle initially struggles to cope with her mother’s death, she eventually finds moments of joy and connection through her artistic pursuits and her exploration of Korean culture.
Do you think Zauner’s depiction of grief emphasizes the importance of honoring a mother’s legacy through both food and art, as well as through the acceptance and expression of one’s own emotions?
- In the book, the popular chain of Asian grocery stores serves as a powerful symbol of cultural exchange and recognition. Through Zauner’s experiences at H Mart and other local Asian grocers, she finds a way to reconnect with her Korean heritage and honor her mother, grandmother, and aunt. The way she describes her trips to H Mart as a pilgrimage is a testament to the importance she places on the store as a place to find authentic ingredients and practices that represent her cultural identity.
Discuss how Zauner highlights the importance of recognizing and celebrating cultural diversity based on this particular store – the H Mart store.
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