Crying in H Mart

Against a red background, two sets of chopsticks hold noodles in long swoop that looks like an H.

by Ben H.

I’d be remiss to write about Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart without mentioning Psychpomp, the 2016 Japanese Breakfast album that served as a preview for the memoir that debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times‘ best sellers List. Passages describing the creation of the album are brief, but lyrics are scattered throughout the memoir like Easter eggs.  

Zauner recorded the album in Eugene in the months after her mother died. Zauner’s mother is on the album cover, reaching toward the camera. It’s a rad shoegaze album full of great lyrics, and it’s my 2-year-old daughter’s favorite album. Kiki’s been listening to it since she was born. She points to this album cover when she wants to bop: 

Two Asian woman look down into the camera, one reaching out. They are under a blue sky and wind is blowing their hair.

Zauner, who was born in Seoul; raised in Eugene, Oregon; went to school in Philadelphia; and now lives in Brooklyn has a real Maryland vibe (whatever that means). Maybe it’s just me, but I felt close to Zauner after reading her book. It’s honest and intimate (I know that’s a book cover cliché and I still can’t help myself). 

The memoir is incredible. Her mom was only 56 when she died, and Zauner had a complicated relationship with her. She illustrates their relationship by detailing a series of events from childhood conversations to her mom’s final word. The book is only around 250 pages, but Zauner uses anecdotes and conversations like a pointillist uses points to create a full portrait. Her mother is down-to-earth, glamorous, pragmatic, whimsical, frustrating, mysterious, and lovely.  

Zauner writes about eating food, making food, storing food, watching videos of other people make food (Maangchi gets her own chapter), and it’s all great. The passage where she makes her first real batch of kimchi is one of my favorites. Food is the constant in her relationship with her parents: “What they lacked in high culture, they made up for by spending their hard-earned money on the finest of delicacies. My childhood was rich with flavor – blood sausage, fish intestines, caviar. They loved good food, to make it, to seek it, to share it, and I was an honorary guest at their table.” 

After her mother’s cancer diagnosis, her mental fantasies to cure her mom are heartbreaking. We’ve all tried to barter with the universe or with God to get something, and in that vein, Zauner writes, “I spent an hour on the treadmill. In my head I played a game with the numbers. I thought to myself, if I run at eight for another minute, the chemo will work. If I hit five miles in half an hour she’ll be cured.”  

The details of Zauner’s childhood in Eugene and her visits with family in Seoul are highlights, but I found myself returning to the intimate moments between Zauner and her mother. Crying in H Mart is officially going to be a movie; I can’t wait for the screen adaptation, but I think it’s going to be a tearjerker. 

You can place the book on hold, as many other folks want to read it right now, but it’s worth the wait. Also available as an eBook and eAudiobook.

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

Dr. Erika Lee: The Making of Asian America

On the left, the cover of Dr. Lee's book: The color shades from deep blue to bright red with lettering in gold. A paper lantern floats in the top right corner. On the right: A photo of Dr. Lee wearing a denim jacket and large blue necklace, her hair is shoulder length and she wears glasses. A sunny green yard is out of focus behind her.

Monumental. . . . Lee handles her scholarly materials with grace, never overwhelming the reader with too many facts or incidents. She tells an American story familiar to anyone who has read Walt Whitman, seeking to capture America in all its diversity and difference, while at the same time pleading for America to realize its democratic potential. . . . Powerful Asian American stories . . . are inspiring, and Lee herself does them justice in a book that is long overdue.” ― LA Times

On Wednesday, May 26 at 7 pm, Dr. Erika Lee discusses her acclaimed book The Making of Asian-AmericaIn the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest-growing group in the United States. As award-winning historian Erika Lee also reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from their first arrival to the present-day.

An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and, for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II. During the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.

Copies of The Making of Asian America are available to borrow (also as an eAudiobook) from HCLS or to purchase from Books with a Past. 

A stunning achievement, The Making of Asian America establishes the centrality of Asians to American history, and poses alternatives to US national and immigration histories. Asians, this remarkable text reveals, transformed the face of America, and they locate the US firmly within a hemispheric and global order.” ― Gary Y. Okihiro, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

ABOUT DR. ERIKA LEE One of the nation’s leading immigration and Asian American historians, Erika Lee teaches American history at the University of Minnesota, where she is a Regents Professor, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor, the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History, and the Director of the Immigration History Research Center. The granddaughter of Chinese immigrants, Lee grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, attended Tufts University, and received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She was recently elected into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, testified before Congress during its historic hearings on discrimination and violence against Asian Americans, was awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, and named Vice President of the Organization of American Historians.

Celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month with #ELKReads

By the Elkridge Branch staff

It seems especially vital to raise up and celebrate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) this year, during the increased violence and harassment faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the United States. Racist attacks fueled by fear and hatred, especially surrounding the pandemic, have been on the rise in 2020 and 2021, including here in Howard County. We must all stand together against hatred and work to protect and honor the rich cultural heritage of the AAPI community. Reading “own voices” stories about the life experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is a good starting point for increasing our understanding and appreciation of the AAPI community. See our suggestions aimed at readers of all ages, and keep an eye on our Facebook page for more titles as well.

The collage includes: Good Night Friend by Nidhi Chanani, against a blue background, a white circle shows an illustration of two children and some animals. Lift by Min Lê has a lush jungle with the word LIFT in all caps tilted across the center with a girl and her cat sitting in the doorway of the "I". The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin illustrative cover has soft drawings of a girl and her mom working in a garden. On the bottom of the collage: Toddler Two by Anastasia Suen shows two small children, one on a bicycle and one with a striped ball. Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet by Sanae Ishida has a watercolor painting of a bamboo stand with the title character.  Drawn Together by Minh Lê shows a young boy hugging an older man with all sorts of imaginative images in the background.

For Little Kids

Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet: An Adventure with Little Kunoichi the Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida

Will Chibi Samurai find a special pet just for him? Join the adventure in this second beautiful picture book in the three-part Little Kunoichi series. Meet all kinds of creatures familiar in Japanese culture throughout this playful tale, and find out more about Japanese animals and culture with special notes at the end of the story.

Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat 

Where can an elevator take you? Join your little one on their adventure with Iris, a little girl who loves to press the elevator buttons to go up or down the building where she lives. After the button accidently breaks, Iris is able to save it from the trash, and the elevator button takes her on new adventures in her room.

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin  (also available as an eBook on CloudLibrary)

In this charming story about celebrating differences, a Chinese-American girl wishes for a garden of bright flowers instead of one full of bumpy, ugly vegetables, but her mother assures her that “these are better than flowers.” Once it’s time to harvest, the whole neighborhood agrees that those ugly vegetables turn into the most delicious soup! A recipe at the end invites readers to try their hand at making their own tasty vegetable soup.

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar shows several characters in silhouette, including one holding the Indian flag, and one character above the title facing forward amidst a background of colorful flowers.  Cilla-Lee Jenkins:  Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan depicts a girl with raised arms in front of a door from which fantastical creatures are emerging, including a dinosaur and a unicorn.  Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung shows a blue fish in a fishbowl surrounded by goldfish.  Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence shows the title character holding a plate of mochi, dressed in a pink tutu and crown.  My Beijing:  Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun shows a character on a bike carrying a small child in front, with statuary, trees, and a building in the background.  Frazzled:  Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes by Booki Vivat shows a  frazzled-looking character in yellow pants and an orange shirt, reaching out in the direction of a gray cat.

For Big Kids:

Cilla-Lee Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

With a new baby sibling on the way, spunky eight-year-old Cilla will make sure her family can’t forget about her. She vows to become a famous bestselling memoirist before the baby arrives. Being both Chinese and Caucasian is an essential part of Cilla’s family and her life story. Sincerely touching and irresistibly funny, this is the first book in an excellent three-part series.

Frazzled: Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes by Booki Vivat

Abbie has big plans for the school year, such as running for class president. She’s also thrilled to have her own shiny new locker – that is, until she finds out she has to share it with someone else. Follow the frazzled life of Abbie Wu as she navigates the hazards of middle school in this fast-paced title filled with adventures and doodles.

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung

Chloe Cho has always wondered why her parents will NEVER talk about their lives in Korea before moving to the United States. Other people’s parents are thrilled when their kids ask questions about their lives, but Chloe’s parents just dodge and change the subject. As Chloe enters seventh grade, she is excited to learn that she will have a Korean American teacher who can finally help her learn more about her heritage, but what she learns is VERY different from what she imagined, leading to a whole different set of questions.

The cover of You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins depicts a woman dancer in muted pastel colors.  The cover of Frankly in Love by David Yoon is in stylized letters in shades of green, blue, and turquoise against a yellow background.  The cover of Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay shows a character in a black shirt against a peach background, with flames behind him and erupting from his two outstretched hands.  The cover of The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen depicts the main character, Tiến, wearing an oversized bomber jacket and holding a book that he is reading, against a background of a mermaid-like fairy tale character.  The cover of Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed depicts a girl against a pink floral background, holding a camera and pointing it at the viewer as she looks through the lens.  The cover of Almost American Girl by Robin Ha depicts the title character, a teenage Korean girl, walking into a classroom and holding books, turning back to look at the viewer, with students in desks all face-forward and looking at her.

For Teens:

Frankly in Love by David Yoon (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook on Libby/OverDrive)

Frank Li is a high school senior trying to balance his parents’ expectations of him as a first-generation Korean American, and their racism, with his own dreams and desires. He sets up an elaborate plan to start dating a white girl without his parents knowing but ends up finding his heart pulling him in a different direction. As he faces unexpected obstacles, Frank must figure out what is most important to him and how he can best help all those he loves.

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (also available as an eBook on Libby/OverDrive)

Jay is preparing to graduate high school and attend the University of Michigan in the fall, but his plans take a turn when he learns that his Filipino cousin Jun was killed as part of the president’s war on drugs. With his family refusing to discuss what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines himself to find out the truth. In this captivating story, Jay has to work through more than he expected to find the full truth and his own peace.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook on OverDrive, and as an audiobook on CD)

In this sweeping novel, author Mitali Perkins draws on her own experiences as an immigrant to the United States to give readers a look into the life of one family across generations. Hear from alternating narrators in the Das family as they experience defining moments during their adolescences, spanning decades and continents. Each woman brings her own views and strengths to the story as she works to find her way through the challenges that face her.

The cover of They Called Us Enemy by George Takei shows young George in line behind his parents at a Japanese-American concentration camp during World War II, with a fence and an armed guard in the distance.  The cover of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo shows a woman in elegant dress, lying on her side with her arm outstretched in front of her, with magenta flowers, green leaves, and glistening gold stars creating a muted, magical effect in the foreground.  The cover of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See shows a girl peering through several branches in the foreground of the picture, all in shades of orange and green.  The cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a black and white photograph of one person embracing another from behind.  The cover of L.A. Son:  My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi shows the author in an L.A. baseball cap, with newspapers plastering the walls behind him, pointing at the title of the book.  The cover of All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung shows a brown branch with four white blossoms against a purple background, with the branch weaving through the white lettering of the title.

For Adults:

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook on CloudLibrary, and an eBook and an eAudiobook on Libby/OverDrive)

Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a moving title about class, race, love, and the power of storytelling. Written in the form of a letter to his illiterate mom, Little Dog – our speaker – recounts his family’s history from before he was born, using it as a gateway to expose parts of his own life that his mother has never known. With a stunning rawness and grace to its prose, this is an intimate, striking portrait of the Vietnamese immigrant experience.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

In the Chinese community of 1890s Malaya, Li Lan, the 17-year-old daughter of a struggling merchant, accepts an offer from the wealthy Lim family to become a ghost bride to their recently deceased son, ensuring her a future of comfort and respect as the widow of a man she never knew. What she expects to be her uneventful new life takes an unexpected turn as she finds herself haunted by her ghost husband and drawn into the land of the dead. Hunted by vengeful spirits and assisted by creatures of legend, Li Lan must solve the mystery of her husband’s death and find her way back to the land of the living. By weaving together both history and mythology, Choo creates an enchanting and atmospheric fantasy adventure.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (also available as an eBook on OverDrive)

They Called Us Enemy is a graphic novel memoir written by famed Star Trek actor George Takei. Detailing his family’s internment during WW2, it explores the tough choices made by his parents during this dark time of sanctioned racism. Though he was just a child at the time, Mr. Takei’s insights explore his feelings of betrayal and injustice during this harsh chapter of American history.

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. Our staff are always happy to help you with your questions about books, tools, technology, and more!