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Tastes Like War: A Memoir

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Grace M. Cho grew up as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. They were one of few immigrants in a xenophobic small town during the Cold War, where identity was politicized by everyday details—language, cultural references, memories, and food. When Grace was fifteen, her dynamic mother experienced the onset of schizophre Grace M. Cho grew up as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. They were one of few immigrants in a xenophobic small town during the Cold War, where identity was politicized by everyday details—language, cultural references, memories, and food. When Grace was fifteen, her dynamic mother experienced the onset of schizophrenia, a condition that would continue and evolve for the rest of her life. Part food memoir, part sociological investigation, Tastes Like War is a hybrid text about a daughter’s search through intimate and global history for the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia. In her mother’s final years, Grace learned to cook dishes from her parent’s childhood in order to invite the past into the present, and to hold space for her mother’s multiple voices at the table. And through careful listening over these shared meals, Grace discovered not only the things that broke the brilliant, complicated woman who raised her—but also the things that kept her alive.


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Grace M. Cho grew up as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. They were one of few immigrants in a xenophobic small town during the Cold War, where identity was politicized by everyday details—language, cultural references, memories, and food. When Grace was fifteen, her dynamic mother experienced the onset of schizophre Grace M. Cho grew up as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. They were one of few immigrants in a xenophobic small town during the Cold War, where identity was politicized by everyday details—language, cultural references, memories, and food. When Grace was fifteen, her dynamic mother experienced the onset of schizophrenia, a condition that would continue and evolve for the rest of her life. Part food memoir, part sociological investigation, Tastes Like War is a hybrid text about a daughter’s search through intimate and global history for the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia. In her mother’s final years, Grace learned to cook dishes from her parent’s childhood in order to invite the past into the present, and to hold space for her mother’s multiple voices at the table. And through careful listening over these shared meals, Grace discovered not only the things that broke the brilliant, complicated woman who raised her—but also the things that kept her alive.

30 review for Tastes Like War: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    What a fantastic memoir. In Tastes Like War, Grace Cho writes about her mother’s experience with schizophrenia through an in-depth sociocultural lens. One of my favorite parts of this memoir includes how Cho portrays her mother with such love and thoughtfulness. Her writing itself feels vivid and alive through how she captures both poignant and everyday scenes and situations with her mother. She utilizes language to destigmatize both schizophrenia and sex work. The running theme of food gave thi What a fantastic memoir. In Tastes Like War, Grace Cho writes about her mother’s experience with schizophrenia through an in-depth sociocultural lens. One of my favorite parts of this memoir includes how Cho portrays her mother with such love and thoughtfulness. Her writing itself feels vivid and alive through how she captures both poignant and everyday scenes and situations with her mother. She utilizes language to destigmatize both schizophrenia and sex work. The running theme of food gave this memoir an enhanced emotional weight that made me tear up at the end. It’s clear to me that Cho has processed her relationship with her now deceased mother with much psychological acuity and strength. I also loved how Cho details how broader systems of oppression such as US imperialism in Korea contributed to her mother’s schizophrenia. She writes both about the gendered racism against Korean girls and women abroad as well as her and her mother’s experiences of racism and sexism growing up in a predominantly white town in Washington State. With great intelligence she captures how sociocultural factors can influence our individual psyches. I found some relief and satisfaction in how Cho turned to her academic work as well as baking and cooking to cultivate agency in understanding her mother’s life, the trials and tribulations she went through and what brought her joy. This memoir contains so many additional praiseworthy elements: Cho’s coming of age and how she formed empowering friendships with fellow marginalized folks during her undergraduate studies, the sensitivity to which she writes about multiple members of her family, and her seamless integration of historical events with her present day life. One of the best memoirs I have read in a while and one I would highly recommend to everyone. I feel happy to start off 2022 with Tastes Like War and I hope others read and enjoy it too. Would also recommend this alongside The Body Papers by Grace Talusan.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    This is the underrated memoir of the year. Grace Cho is a mesmerizing storyteller and I was moved by her changing relationship with her mother as she navigates her mother's schizophrenia. I loved Cho's first book HAUNTING THE KOREAN DIASPORA and was grateful for her perspective into her research process--driven by deeply personal desires to understand her family history during the Korean War and U.S. occupation. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the lasting psychic impact of war and This is the underrated memoir of the year. Grace Cho is a mesmerizing storyteller and I was moved by her changing relationship with her mother as she navigates her mother's schizophrenia. I loved Cho's first book HAUNTING THE KOREAN DIASPORA and was grateful for her perspective into her research process--driven by deeply personal desires to understand her family history during the Korean War and U.S. occupation. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the lasting psychic impact of war and colonialism. I will be buying a hard copy and assigning this in my future classes!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Neville

    I am the brother depicted in this “memoir”, which I believe should be considered fiction. As a fiercely private individual with zero interest in publicity, I’m writing this review with a heavy heart. My sister did not bother to ask any of her living relatives who lived with and cared for my mother whether our memories matched hers and did not care about invading my family’s privacy with a greatly exaggerated, bordering on the ridiculous version of my life. If she believed her memoir to be accura I am the brother depicted in this “memoir”, which I believe should be considered fiction. As a fiercely private individual with zero interest in publicity, I’m writing this review with a heavy heart. My sister did not bother to ask any of her living relatives who lived with and cared for my mother whether our memories matched hers and did not care about invading my family’s privacy with a greatly exaggerated, bordering on the ridiculous version of my life. If she believed her memoir to be accurate, why was she afraid to share it with us for consent and corroboration, which is basic common sense and courtesy, not to mention legality, required of any memoir? As for further nuance, I will restate a comment from another reader’s review, as it captures the essence of Grace M. Cho: “Cho seems to be trying to build a story of herself as a victim which I find disgusting.” As her brother, I can sadly attest she’s been doing this her whole life and the only thing she is a victim of is her own dishonesty. Grace may ethnically be half Korean, but she immigrated as a baby at age 1 and enjoyed the trappings of an upper middle class upbringing (piano lessons, tennis lessons, academic support, college guidance). She had free access to my parents’ Mercedes and Cadillacs, spent a couple of her high school summers in Paris, Corsica, studied abroad in Cambridge and later in college, in Brazil. I can’t recall her ever having to work and if she did (as one of her hs friends pointed out) it was out of choice and not necessity, as my parents funded her every want - Ivy League educations, spending money, even large annual checks as an adult. Heck, even the down payment for her first home purchase which she portrayed as having to save and scrape so hard for in the book came from her previous partner’s mother and … me. We weren’t wealthy, but by middle class Chehalis standards, we were well off, as any classmate can confirm. My point is that my parents sacrificed to give her everything any child could ever want. Yet, she always felt she was some type of a victim and this book is a new low. Truth blows her narrative of struggle. The Chehalis I grew up in was not the xenophobic back water she portrayed. She cites a KKK rally in 1924 yet fails to provide the proper context that during that era, the KKK was endemic in Washington state and Seattle and many, many other cities also hosted such rallies. Chehalis is a 1.5 hour drive in either direction to cosmopolitan Seattle or Portland. The 1980 census (she would have been 9) shows 17 Koreans (and 37 Asians), not our family being the only 3 (ch 3 literally headlines with this ridiculous claim) and the town not having seen immigrants “in several decades” which was a major premise of her book and in her numerous interviews found online. If you also count Centralia (and you should, as the two towns are basically connected), the community had 44 Koreans. Plus Olympia, the state capitol, was a mere 30 minutes up I-5 with another 87 Koreans as well as many other Asian immigrants. This is the west coast we’re talking about. Yes, there was some racism as you’d find in any community but I encountered far more caring, hard working people who gave me the support and encouragement to make something of myself without resorting to fraud. Truth blows her narrative of isolation. I did not consider my father to be racist, but more of a man of his generation (he was born in 1919). When he occasionally said inappropriate things, and when I told him how uncomfortable it made me feel, he never said them again. He taught me to be respectful to everyone and to be tolerant of others. As for the contributing to the David Duke campaign story, I don’t know, but can see how it might have happened. He was at the end of his life and was vulnerable to grifters and people asking for money. For example, the grifting therapist story - I was the one who caught wind of it, flew across the country, threatened the therapist with censure and convinced my father to instead donate his money to charity. My sister was totally uninvolved - merely heard about that story from me (stealing my memories and passing them off as hers is a recurring theme throughout the book - even the title of the book was stolen from a story my mother told my wife, and relayed to Grace). My father was a good man and I’m proud to have been raised by him. Truth muddles her allegations of racism. There was no domestic abuse. This is a fantastic lie. My father never laid a hand on anyone. It’s not who he was, let alone her vivid description of hearing the “cracking sound of bone”of my mother’s nose, when Grace was supposedly 2 or 3 years old. What two and a half year old would retain memory in such detail, besides I would have been nine and have no such memory and would have certainly noticed the bruises and black eyes that a crushed nose would have caused (edit: I mistakenly said 1.5 in an earlier draft, as I was going off memory of her book - still ridiculous, and I still have no memory of this event). I was mysteriously absent in the domestic abuse scenes. Either I was the most oblivious person on the planet … or Grace lied to further her portrayal as a victim. Seriously, ask yourself whether you believe the author has set a new neuroscience bar for early memory AND that I was so clueless as a nine year old that I never noticed violent, bone breaking fights, OR did the author just make this stuff up to sensationalize this book because trauma sells? The truth is either one or the other, not the “differing perspectives” nonsense her friends and likely paid bots and trolls have been harassing me with on twitter and Goodreads. The notion of neutral, independent readers using their valuable time to pick fights and harass me to try to convince me that my life wasn’t the way I lived it when the preponderance of evidence and common sense indicates otherwise, just doesn’t ring true to me. Truth blows her narrative of abuse. My father also did not bring home prostitutes while my mother was home - I’m certain I would have noticed something this outrageous, or at least heard about it. Unlike Grace, I was close to both parents and spoke with one or both of them nearly every day. Prostitutes in Chehalis during the pre-internet era? Come on. My mother would have killed him, had this story been true. My father also did not expose himself to my daughter. I was literally in the room during the incident she describes - my father, at the end of his life, didn’t quite make it to the bathroom on time and accidentally pooped his pants and only Grace could grotesquely turn an elder’s bathroom accident into a story of sexual exposure. My daughter (now an adult) was outraged - “who says something like this!” after reading that passage. Someone with a narrative as a victim, that’s who. Our life was pretty boring … and dare I say, normal. She destroyed his legacy solely to add a sensational element to the story to sell books, but truth blows her narrative of sensationalism. She is no mental health expert, unless you consider what she might have read in books with no real life experience, “expertise”. She was uninvolved in my mother’s health care. She never accompanied her to doctors’ appointments like my wife and I did for decades and she couldn’t even be bothered to visit after my mother’s suicide attempts. The story about single-handedly diagnosing her with schizophrenia from a library book at age 15 while my father and I denied there was a problem? She may actually believe she did but I first noticed my mother was off the summer before I left for college (Grace was 11) which was several years before that story and my father and I consulted and subsequently took her to doctors in Seattle. Like many brain illnesses, getting a proper diagnosis was difficult and they evolved over time (schizophrenia, PTSD, anxiety disorder, depression, TBI from a fall from the roof). Her prominent psychiatrist in Princeton who she saw for many years told me after her death that it was his belief that she most likely didn’t have schizophrenia but that more likely a stroke had altered her brain functioning. He apparently tried to get a brain scan as technology had advanced so much since the onset of her condition but my mother refused to do so. We just tried to give her the most comfortable and secure life possible. Regardless of what she had, there was ZERO shame for us, and we certainly didn’t refer to her with the horrible, ableist terms with which she described my mother. My wife and I both participate in and volunteer at mental health advocacy groups - does this sound like we’re ashamed of having had a mad relative to you? To us, she was just “mom” or “grandma”. My kids hardly even noticed she was that different from other grandmas and my mother was not at all as described in the book, shades drawn, unable to care for herself. My mother cooked weekly feasts for us, played with my kids, with my dogs. That description was awful and totally inaccurate. Truth blows her narrative of mental health expertise. Grace breached ethical and moral boundaries in interviewing a vulnerable subject -my mother - against her will. This is taboo for academics and there are prohibitions against interviewing vulnerable subjects for academic research. To put my mother’s life in proper perspective, she was born in a Japanese concentration camp during WW2 and was a refugee during the Korean War, where she lost half her family. I can’t fathom the horrible things she had to endure, yet she survived, and somehow had the fortitude to bring me to America and allow me to live the American Dream. Any topic regarding her traumatic background - she would never discuss, including with Grace. She has no proof my mother was a sex worker, merely speculation. She says in an interview that a relative told her at age 22. That relative she’s referring to is my wife, who says she never did. I suppose this speculation could hold for practically every Asian bride during that era. Was every Asian bride a sex worker? Of course not, and who is she to label my mother as a sex worker without even knowing if she was one? Even if it were true, I also would have ZERO shame. It would just add to the lore of this remarkable woman who sacrificed and overcame impossible odds to give her children everything they could possibly want. Also, my father was never in the service (he captained a freightliner). However, Grace was hell bent on willing the serviceman meets camp town girl narrative to life - truth and my mother’s health be damned. I found her interrogation of my mother against her will at the end of her life to be disgraceful, morally corrupt and ethically compromised. My disagreement and eventual estrangement from my sister was due to this topic - her interrogation of my mother (against her will) for her first book. My mother was so disturbed by this, she asked me to take Grace out of the will (I refused, as I was still the dutiful big brother, protecting her at that time). We weren’t even aware she was writing this follow up book, which she calls a “memoir”. Truth blows her narrative of legitimate scholarship. Contrary to her portrayal as my mother’s cook, Grace couldn’t be bothered to help care for my mother (or for my father at the end of his life). Cooking is one thing my mother never struggled with - she cooked for herself and for her family throughout her life, even during her low periods and she cooked me a wonderful meal a mere two days before her death. With the exception of a 6 month period when I was building a specialized custom home (“the apartment”) for my mother in my back yard at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars (Grace contributed $0.00), she was no more than a bit player during the ~ 20 years my mother was under my care. Since cooking is a big theme of her book, a generous accounting in Grace’s favor was that she cooked no more than 1% of my mother’s meals and she only showed up at the very end - once every few weeks - during the last year of my mother’s life under the guise of cooking but in reality, to mine her for info for her first book. No, my sister was not there for my mother. The following story pretty much says it all - when my mother was hospitalized following a suicide attempt, I was out of town and with my wife at her side, 8 months pregnant and a toddler in tow and and when she called Grace from the ER to plead for help (she was merely 1 hour and 40 minute commute away - the hardship she describes in the book about commuting from NYC to Princeton makes me LOL), her response was “what do you expect me to do, change my life for you?” She did not come to help DESPITE HER OWN MOTHER BEING HOSPITALIZED FOLLOWING A SUICIDE ATTEMPT. So we changed our lives to provide full time care for my beloved mother. My wife literally sacrificed her career and gave up her PhD studies at Princeton University and I declined career advancements which would have required moving. Truth blows her narrative of care. We changed our lives but we’re not the least bit bitter about that. However, my sister is now spinning a ridiculously false and sensational narrative of our family and my mother’s care and selling this “memoir” to tabloids and breaching our privacy without our consent. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were in my position. For me, every reference to this book feels like a dagger to my heart. I can go on and on to refute her numerous lies and extreme exaggeration- so much so that my wife has written a 63 page mirror memoir which refutes Grace’s book. We’re willing to state all this in a court of law, and can back up our statements with witnesses. Grace loves to be portrayed as a victim, but the true victims are the legacies of my parents. They were good people and did not deserve this. Tastes Like War is not a memoir. It belongs in fiction, and it Tastes Like Lies. UPDATE: since the rest of the family first went public with our unanimous objections to this book on October 31, 2021, there’s been a noticeable difference in her interview responses -now far less sure that my mother “may have been a sex worker”, she now grew up middle class vs poverty, we are no longer the first immigrants the town had seen in decades, etc. So why would you believe any of her story? This book is fiction and enjoy it in that light if you want, but do not try to convince me that I am embarrassing myself (nothing regarding my life/my mother’s care is embarrassing to me) or that I merely have different perspectives (yeah, right). If you feel anger toward me for telling you this memoir is fiction, I’d instead respectfully ask you to do your own due diligence on this topic (because her publisher certainly didn’t do any) and then when it becomes obvious that she told a fairy tale, that you instead direct your anger at the party who took your money and wasted your time under false pretenses.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christine Rague

    This is an amazing memoir that I couldn't put down. The author richly and seamlessly blends memory and the present to attempt to piece together her mother's history. I loved the evocation of food as sensory memory. The book brings up a lot of difficult questions to grapple with regarding insiders, outsiders and who we in the United States want to believe we are, how we actually show up on the world stage, and how we treat people who are "outsiders." As the author shows, the ramifications of this This is an amazing memoir that I couldn't put down. The author richly and seamlessly blends memory and the present to attempt to piece together her mother's history. I loved the evocation of food as sensory memory. The book brings up a lot of difficult questions to grapple with regarding insiders, outsiders and who we in the United States want to believe we are, how we actually show up on the world stage, and how we treat people who are "outsiders." As the author shows, the ramifications of this on both a political, but more importantly, a personal level, can be devastating. Grace Cho is a brave, honest, generous, and vulnerable writer. I was glad it rained all weekend so I could stay home and read this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mridula

    Extraordinary memoir. I appreciated Grace Cho's socio-political gaze at her mother's life. She applies a critical race-gender-age lens in unpacking the issue of schizophrenia and traces how violent colonial histories targeting women and girls can create the conditions that exacerbate mental illness. Extraordinary memoir. I appreciated Grace Cho's socio-political gaze at her mother's life. She applies a critical race-gender-age lens in unpacking the issue of schizophrenia and traces how violent colonial histories targeting women and girls can create the conditions that exacerbate mental illness.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    What an extraordinary, empathetic, gut-wrenching, mouth-watering memoir that I am so glad to have read. On a craft level, Cho is a beautiful writer with a gift for slowly peeling back layers of narrative and self without ever seeming deliberately withholding or inorganically constructing an arc, as some memorists do -- but what will stick with me even more than the exquisite/harrowing way she shares details is the love that infuses every word she writes. This book is about grief, but it's also ab What an extraordinary, empathetic, gut-wrenching, mouth-watering memoir that I am so glad to have read. On a craft level, Cho is a beautiful writer with a gift for slowly peeling back layers of narrative and self without ever seeming deliberately withholding or inorganically constructing an arc, as some memorists do -- but what will stick with me even more than the exquisite/harrowing way she shares details is the love that infuses every word she writes. This book is about grief, but it's also about the warmth of cooking for loved ones, and what is passed on and shared when we do; rooting the familial/cultural memories here in food centers Cho's book on love, and I can't explain how much that meant to me. Whether or not you as a reader have encountered or your family has faced schizophrenia (mine has), I think it's easy to understand that American culture as a whole doesn't meet it with empathy. I feel privileged to have read a book that acknowledges that schizophrenia and its effects are complex, and I feel privileged to have been allowed this glimpse into Cho's relationship with her mother.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    This is an amazing memoir. Probably one of the best I've ever read (and I've read a lot of fantastic ones). Aside from the beautiful writing, Cho researches and delves into her mom's life, before and after her arrival in the US and before and after her mom's schizophrenia, as well as Cho's own experiences. Part memoir, but also part sociological research, the intersections of food, mental illness, and being an other were just gripping to read. And it's and it really shows a daughter's love for h This is an amazing memoir. Probably one of the best I've ever read (and I've read a lot of fantastic ones). Aside from the beautiful writing, Cho researches and delves into her mom's life, before and after her arrival in the US and before and after her mom's schizophrenia, as well as Cho's own experiences. Part memoir, but also part sociological research, the intersections of food, mental illness, and being an other were just gripping to read. And it's and it really shows a daughter's love for her mother. This is also a perfect companion read with Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings and Esme Weijun Wang's Collected Schizophrenias. ETA: Staff Pick 11/21

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    Wow. A complicated love letter to her mother through stories about food and eating that also interrogates American involvement in Korea. Beautifully written, weaving memoir with related texts. This is the best book I’ve read this year.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Susan Park

    This is the most moving book I have read in many years. Ms. Cho's memoir is heartbreaking, courageous and beautiful. She pays great homage to her mother, and by extension, to all the hard working, silently suffering, sacrificial immigrant mothers in general. Reading this helped me in my grief over my own mother's death and brought me a measure of healing. Equally important, I learned hard truths about the Korea of my parents' generation - truths that need to come to light. In the end, this is a This is the most moving book I have read in many years. Ms. Cho's memoir is heartbreaking, courageous and beautiful. She pays great homage to her mother, and by extension, to all the hard working, silently suffering, sacrificial immigrant mothers in general. Reading this helped me in my grief over my own mother's death and brought me a measure of healing. Equally important, I learned hard truths about the Korea of my parents' generation - truths that need to come to light. In the end, this is a story of survival and love that transcends cultural and generational boundaries. I am changed for the better for reading it. Susan Park

  10. 5 out of 5

    Danielle | Dogmombookworm

    TASTES LIKE WAR | Grace is a biracial Korean American child, who grew up in the small town of Chehalis, Washington as one of the only three Asians in the town, the other two being her mother and her brother. Grace's mom met her dad while he was stationed in Korea during the war. Her mom waited for Grace's dad to complete his divorce then joined him in the US. The dream of the US was where poverty, war, and abuses would stop; life would be good. I feel like I know her mom, Koonja, in a way that I d TASTES LIKE WAR | Grace is a biracial Korean American child, who grew up in the small town of Chehalis, Washington as one of the only three Asians in the town, the other two being her mother and her brother. Grace's mom met her dad while he was stationed in Korea during the war. Her mom waited for Grace's dad to complete his divorce then joined him in the US. The dream of the US was where poverty, war, and abuses would stop; life would be good. I feel like I know her mom, Koonja, in a way that I don't know most people. Not my own mom, who began to deteriorate from MS when I was young. And certainly not my birth mom whom I've never met, whom I know nothing about except that she was 19 when she had me. There are unspeakable traumas that Koonja faced: as a young girl under Japanese colonial rule, the death of two of her siblings in the Korean war, work as a sex worker in order to survive and pay off her family's debt, the stigma of having a biracial child in a country that saw the "GI baby problem" as a "social crisis," for whom Korean citizenship would be denied because "children born to Korean mothers and foreign fathers would not be allowed to register as South Korean citizens." Koonja survived all of this to come to the US and survive on her charisma with no education and her cooking skills, only to face domestic abuse and racism from small town country folk. There are all of these parts of Koonja that were split apart, bifurcating into smaller and smaller halves that survived by retreating inwards, only reopening with hints of home, oftentimes through expressing love to her children through food, or mothering them with singular devotion. And yet - life strikes again. Koonja develops schizophrenia in the '80s at the age of 45. It is for this that Grace goes on to get a PhD and study what schizophrenia is, who her mother was, what pasts she and other Korean women like her lived through. This book has curled up inside my heart and shattered me from the inside. I mean that in the best way possible. I feel heartbroken for Koonja and Grace and for the thousands of Korean women and mothers who lived through forced atrocities and stigmatization, who still do. To Grace, I want to say, thank you for sharing your stories of your mom - of cheeseburger season, of your mom as Blackberry Lady and Madame Mushroom, as warmth mule from bed to breakfast table, of one time, no love servings. This book is exceptional 5 stars

  11. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    After reading Ms. Cho's first book, Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, I was looking forward to reading her next book, Tastes Like War. It did not disappoint! Ms. Cho has presented in a most effective way the story of events in her mother's life and how those events affected Ms. Cho's childhood and her growth into an adult. I cried. I laughed. I smiled. There are so many instances with which I can relate, having grown up with a mother who was very much like Ms. After reading Ms. Cho's first book, Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, I was looking forward to reading her next book, Tastes Like War. It did not disappoint! Ms. Cho has presented in a most effective way the story of events in her mother's life and how those events affected Ms. Cho's childhood and her growth into an adult. I cried. I laughed. I smiled. There are so many instances with which I can relate, having grown up with a mother who was very much like Ms. Cho's mother even though my mother grew up in an entirely different culture than Ms. Cho's mother did. This story made me realize how interconnected we really are and that we share many of the same experiences. The most amazing surprise to me was how I could relate to Ms. Cho's emotions. I also learned a great deal about the Korean War and life in Korea after the war. I chose to read Ms. Cho's books because I have a personal interest in learning about the real effect the U.S. government had and continues to have on the Korean people. This is a book I will refer to again and again. It is beautifully written and thoroughly engrossing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Diana Liu

    This is the most important book I've read this year. It is Serious and Direct - unflinching in the face of societal & personal trauma, addressing horrors both unimaginably large (in the imperial aftermath of the Korean War where a choice is a false dichotomy; the practical impact of schizophrenia, and how our understanding of this condition has morphed from it being purely genetic/biological to one informed by social factors; and how our cultures and our governments fail individuals in ways that This is the most important book I've read this year. It is Serious and Direct - unflinching in the face of societal & personal trauma, addressing horrors both unimaginably large (in the imperial aftermath of the Korean War where a choice is a false dichotomy; the practical impact of schizophrenia, and how our understanding of this condition has morphed from it being purely genetic/biological to one informed by social factors; and how our cultures and our governments fail individuals in ways that have already fallen out of our collective memories) and altogether recurring (in the Asian-American experience; in cultural differences within a relationship) with honesty, accessibility, courage and soul. I learned a lot here about the history of state & military-sanctioned prostitution and the history of mental health policy. From darkness emerges a blaze of warmth: the love between mother and daughter and that which nourishes. There is humor, there is wonder. There is intrepid mushroom foraging, there is guk. There is a mother's touch as the two of you are nestled under a blanket she's brought back from the home country. "One time, no love": in this book I felt so keenly as in my own family how food is an act of care, an oasis in a desert, a way of saving oneself, a connection to something greater. We can feed our bodies, and we can feed our common humanity. We can fail each other, but we do right by each other too.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mary Erickson

    Excellent memoir of a Korean-American woman seeking to understand her mother's history and the genesis of her schizophrenia. On a personal note, I lived in Chehalis, Washington, for ten years as a child, and it was fascinating--and eye-opening--to compare the author's childhood with mine. (I'm ten years older, so we didn't overlap.) There was, as she experienced, very little diversity in this small western Washington town. I had one Jewish classmate, and no POC. My mother had a Japanese-American Excellent memoir of a Korean-American woman seeking to understand her mother's history and the genesis of her schizophrenia. On a personal note, I lived in Chehalis, Washington, for ten years as a child, and it was fascinating--and eye-opening--to compare the author's childhood with mine. (I'm ten years older, so we didn't overlap.) There was, as she experienced, very little diversity in this small western Washington town. I had one Jewish classmate, and no POC. My mother had a Japanese-American roommate and good friend (in the late 40's), so I'd like to think we would have been more welcoming than what her family experienced... The freeway billboard she mentions was definitely pointed out by my dad every time we passed it, with a colorful (*!#&$&!! John Birch Society!) description. I recently came across a class photo from the 1930's in nearby PeEll, Washington. My uncle's 3rd/4th grade class. Half Japanese/Japanese-American! I'm sure they did not fare well during the war, with the enforced internment and loss of property. There are many stories still to be told.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Absolutely brilliant. Grace M. Cho have such a gift to the world in sharing their intimate family portrait complete with sociological context. Interweaving food, history, heritage, migration, intergenerational trauma, and feminism, everyone has much to learn from their story. I highly recommend this memoir.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Sophisticated, sensitive, and powerful. Simply the best mother-daughter narrative I have read so far. The author turned the seemingly conflict-ridden relationship between mother and daughter into a productive space for historical and political inquiries. It helped me understand why we still need to talk about the Korean War. Highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    April

    An excellent and engaging example of autoethnographic writing that both educated and moved me. The value in this memoire of grief and trauma isn't in any salacious self-disclosures or heroics, but rather the documentation of the deep connections between self, soul and the social. An excellent and engaging example of autoethnographic writing that both educated and moved me. The value in this memoire of grief and trauma isn't in any salacious self-disclosures or heroics, but rather the documentation of the deep connections between self, soul and the social.

  17. 5 out of 5

    P B

    This is a tender, beautifully written memoir written by a woman trying to make sense of her mother's pain—and her own. I've read it twice, and each time it reveals something more to me. Of course, I know Grace, and I've watched much of her journey creating this book. This phony "controversy" drummed up by a couple of disgruntled family members is just sad. Grace has a broad coalition of dear old friends, partners, colleagues and many others who support and corroborate her story. They knew her, he This is a tender, beautifully written memoir written by a woman trying to make sense of her mother's pain—and her own. I've read it twice, and each time it reveals something more to me. Of course, I know Grace, and I've watched much of her journey creating this book. This phony "controversy" drummed up by a couple of disgruntled family members is just sad. Grace has a broad coalition of dear old friends, partners, colleagues and many others who support and corroborate her story. They knew her, her family, her mother, and they walked with her during this journey. Everyone is outraged on her behalf, but we're not feeding the trolls. As my brother said, "How much hate do you have to have to launch so cruel, petty and, verifiably, false campaign?" It's weird, it's sad, but let's just let them scream into the void. What Grace did in this book is search unflinchingly for the truth, without letting shame or fear bury her. That's why it's so powerful. I'm grateful for her work.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Susie

    I feel like a dirtbag comparing the experiences and lives of two authors... but as both books had very similar themes, this book was above and beyond Crying in Hmart... Although I'm delighted that I'm able to make that comparison (perhaps a comparison is only made b/c I've never had the luxury of being able to do so? idk!). I feel like a dirtbag comparing the experiences and lives of two authors... but as both books had very similar themes, this book was above and beyond Crying in Hmart... Although I'm delighted that I'm able to make that comparison (perhaps a comparison is only made b/c I've never had the luxury of being able to do so? idk!).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Will

    National Book Award Nonfiction Finalist 3.5, rounded up

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Guest

    Just finished and found out it got nominated for the National Book Award. It is an incredible book, filled with stomach-churning history, an indelible imagery of war and food, and a story that is a incredibly beautiful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Myra

    it’s a heart-wrenching personal memoir intertwined with under-told global history, and i find myself bringing up passages in everyday conversations. learned a lot about schizophrenia and the concept of agency in sex work.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    This is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time. The way Cho wove together Korean history, her mom's schizophrenia, the way her family loved and hurt each other simultaneously, and Korean food was so well done. Another book I couldn't put down. Emotionally, I could use a blackberry pie to recover. This is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time. The way Cho wove together Korean history, her mom's schizophrenia, the way her family loved and hurt each other simultaneously, and Korean food was so well done. Another book I couldn't put down. Emotionally, I could use a blackberry pie to recover.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Wynn

    This is an exceptional book, touching on difficult themes of family, history, and the echoes of war through the most human of acts, cooking food for another person. It is in turns lovely and tragic, challenging and soaring, poetic and descriptive. Cho has written like few can, and will, about mental health and history.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hillary

    this book was so hard to read, in the most beautiful way. i couldn't put it down!! made me cry many times this book was so hard to read, in the most beautiful way. i couldn't put it down!! made me cry many times

  25. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    A beautiful love letter of a memoir to a Mother. Leaves a lasting impression and is an important topic. One of my favorite books this year.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mayumi Pizza

    I learned a lot of history that I feel like I should've learned about in school. Learning about her mother and their journey through mental health together was very emotional. I learned a lot of history that I feel like I should've learned about in school. Learning about her mother and their journey through mental health together was very emotional.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ellis

    i dont usually like “[sibling/parent/child/partner/etc.] of [marginalized identity]” books but FUCK this was a MASTERPIECE. such good stuff about colonialism and food and love.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Diskin

    Wow. What a good book. Grace Cho has a way with words. I can’t wait to read her first book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alex Zaky

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. “it would take me a lifetime to figure this out- that my success could be her vindication, that my education could be her second chance.” “the entirety of my adult life had been shaped by my mother’s mental agony and my desire to make her want to live. so at the age of 33, i became the person she had once dreamed of becoming.”

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    A study of the effects of being bi-racial in very white communities after the end of the Korean War, a reflection on the subsidizing of Korean "hostess" camptowns next to US military bases in South Korea, and the damage and schitzphrenia that came over Cho's mother after she finally escapes from that abuse. It's not an easy memoir to read, but the degree of racial displacement--where Cho's father gives money to David Duke's presidential campaign in the early 1990s, or the role that white supremac A study of the effects of being bi-racial in very white communities after the end of the Korean War, a reflection on the subsidizing of Korean "hostess" camptowns next to US military bases in South Korea, and the damage and schitzphrenia that came over Cho's mother after she finally escapes from that abuse. It's not an easy memoir to read, but the degree of racial displacement--where Cho's father gives money to David Duke's presidential campaign in the early 1990s, or the role that white supremacy plays in her Washington hometown--is so powerfully depicted. A worthy 2021 National Book Award finalist for nonfiction.

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