In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.
As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band–and meeting the man who would become her husband–her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
Thank you to the publisher, Macmillan, for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Before reading this book, I can honestly say I’d never heard of Michelle Zauner. In fact, I even thought for a while that this was a fiction book. But throughout this book, I fell in love with this book and the way Zauner writes about her life.
It feels odd to write a review for a memoir so intrinsically intertwined with such an emotional aspect of the writers’ life, but this book was such a beautiful representation of Zauner’s relationship with her mother. Inspired by an article written for the New Yorker and set to be adapted into a feature film, this book is a marriage of Zauner’s relationship with food, with Korea and with her mother.
In fact, she was both my first and second words: Umma, then Mom. I called to her in two languages.
There is no way of hiding the fact this book is not an easy one to read. It was incredibly sad and sometimes difficult to continue to read. There were many times I wanted to put it down because I was finding it so heavy. However, there is something about this book that made me feel like I had a duty to the author and the book to continue. To understand what Zauner went through and to understand her relationship with her mother and her mother’s illness.
I have been lucky that so far in my life I have not faced the kind of grief and loss that Zauner has. The visceral and unfiltered nature with which this book is written gave me a deeper understanding of grief and a deeper appreciation of my own relationship with my mother. My only complaint was that this book did feel a little long (despite it being just over 200 pages), and the structure felt a little off. At one point, I even thought about the fact this book may have been inspired by an article.
Even then I must have known that no one would ever love me as much as she would.
There was a quote on the back of this book that said something along the lines that all mothers and daughters should read it, and I honestly agree. Although this was so emotionally devastating it becomes hard to recommend, I simultaneously want to recommend it to anyone who will listen.
4.5 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽