Three New Memoirs Reveal the Vertigo of Life in the Diaspora – The New York Times

Posted By on June 3, 2021

CRYING IN H MART A Memoir By Michelle Zauner 239 pp. Knopf. $26.95.

If this coming together in diaspora involves the daily realities of eating and mourning, Zauners gutting account of coming to terms with her mothers death, and coming into her own as a Korean American, is peerless. I never thought a book could have me rushing to the pantry for snacks one moment and ugly-crying the next, but here we are. For the musician behind Japanese Breakfast, memories flutter around every bite and crunch she eats.

Food is Zauners lifeline to her Korean mother, Chongmi, who died of cancer in 2014. At the time, Zauner had just emerged from a tempestuous adolescence, spent feeling half in and half out as a second-generation immigrant in suburban America, and was finally beginning to appreciate the delicate trans-Pacific bonds that held her and her mother together. You know what I realized? Chongmi says on one of her daughters visits home from college: Ive just never met someone like you. The line is heartbreaking not only because it captures the disorientation of raising a child an ocean away from home. It also makes Zauner feel as if I were a stranger, as though mother and daughter wandered lost without a reference point, each of us unintelligible to the others expectations, until these past few years when we had just begun to unlock the mystery, carve the psychic space to accommodate each other.

Confronted with the incommensurability of loss, Zauner finds a new language for unsettling the complicated desire for whiteness that closed in on her from an early age. As for Lomnitz, so too does Zauner find that the vertigo of being suspended between cultures brings at once confusion and clarity. But Zauners memoir makes a powerful case for a new language: the language of archive. She painstakingly and tenderly assembles the flavors of love and grief for fermentation in a kimchi refrigerator, to weather time as a memorial to parental devotion. She was my champion, she was my archive, Zauner writes of Chongmi. She had taken the utmost care to preserve the evidence of my existence and growth, capturing me in images, saving all my documents and possessions. She had all knowledge of my being memorized. Of course, an archive only survives if you work to preserve it.

MY BROKEN LANGUAGE A Memoir By Quiara Alegra Hudes316 pp. One World. $28.

For those whove come of age within the Caribbean diaspora that runs along Americas I-95, Hudess memoir of growing up in North Philadelphia with a Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father will ring absolutely true. A Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Hudes brings this world alive in all its glory, ping-ponging between the linguistic multiplicity of urban immigrant life and the zombie enclosures of monolingual whiteness. Theres breathing holy in the slot to bring a Nintendo cartridge back to life. Blasting Juan Luis Guerras album Bachata Rosa, bought at Sam Goody, with its clarion trumpets, power-synth hits, Afropop vocals the old world, new world and middle passage braided like cornrows. And, at the heart of it all, an immigrant mother who moves between the worlds of community activism and the inner life of the spirit.

In Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience, the literary critic Rey Chow poses the question: Does having a language mean coming into possession of it like a bequest from bona fide ancestors and/or being able to control the languages future by handing it down to the proper heirs?


Three New Memoirs Reveal the Vertigo of Life in the Diaspora - The New York Times

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