Abbreviations #138: America is in the Heart, When Breath Becomes Air + Crying in H Mart

Carlos Bulosan is a name I’ve heard mentioned many times, but it was only this year that I finally took the plunge and picked up America is in the Heart. In this memoir, which is often considered a cornerstone of Filipino-American literature, Bulosan shares his life story. He begins by describing his childhood in the Philippines but goes on to detail his experience as a Filipino immigrant in the United States. His life, truthfully, sheds light on a part of Filipino (specifically Filipino-American, I suppose) history that I’ve never really learned about before. And it was definitely an eye-opening experience! Bulosan’s words paint a picture that seems just a touch idealized (cleaned up might, perhaps be a better term, and that made it feel much closer to fictional and dreamlike at times). It was impossible not to feel the raw emotions brimming within these pages, and it feels utterly intimate to be reading such a personal tale. There are many tragedies and momentary triumphs depicted; it invites readers to feel for what Bulosan, his family and his companions went through. It certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to read, as the tale includes racism, violence, abuse and difficulties. I felt, however, that it was important for me to get some insight into this particular era that I’d known nothing about, even just through the lens of one individual’s well-written story. So, even though it was always pleasant or fun, I’m ultimately glad I decided to finally read it this year.

Pub Info: June 18, 2019 by Blackstone Publishing, audio (or. pub. year 1946)

When Breath Becomes Air
 recounts Paul Kalanathi’s life, both the time he spent working to become a surgeon and his eventual battle with lung cancer. I’d heard about this one years ago through A Cup of Jo (blogger Joanna Goddard is the sister of Paul’s widow Lucy), but only finally read it this year because it got picked for the family book club I have with my sisters and cousin. I knew this book would be heartbreaking to read (and it certainly had me in tears by the end). But it was also heartwarming and hopeful. Paul writes very simply, but his words express the honesty and emotion with which he recounts and reflects on his life experiences. I personally liked the conversational tone he opted for; it made me feel like I was hanging out with a friend! It did surprise me a little that I didn’t feel as emotional as I’d anticipated until closer to the end. But it was still a compelling account to read, especially as Paul grapples with the idea of life, death and the choices he had to make leading up to his own death. I’m glad I finally read it, and it was definitely interesting to discuss this one for our book club.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Pub Info: January 12, 2016 by Random House Audio

I can readily admit that I picked up Crying in H Mart entirely because of the title. (I seriously love H Mart so much, and often visit the branch nearest to our apartment to stock up on goodies.) This memoir is a collection of author Michelle Zauner’s recollections of her relationship with her mother, from the early days of childhood to the later years when her mother was battling cancer. I’m honestly glad to have been enticed into picking this one up! Zauner’s narrative voice is friendly and compelling; once I started reading, I found it hard to put this one down. Though I knew nothing about Zauner prior to reading the novel, I instantly felt a kinship in the way she recounted her memories. She certainly didn’t view her life, choices and relationships with rose-colored glasses, and there’s an honesty to the way she captured her memories on the page. Her writing felt so immersive, especially when it comes to transporting readers to the places and times she’s describing; she also had a knack for weaving food into the narrative (and making me hungry many times in the process). It was a memoir that was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once, and I personally loved how it was so clear all throughout that mother and daughter love each other that despite their somewhat complicated relationship. It was really good, and quite moving, and I’m glad I read it.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Pub Info: April 20, 2021 by Knopf Publishing Group


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