Review: Tastes Like War, Grace M. Cho

Review: Tastes Like War, Grace M. ChoTastes Like War by Grace M. Cho
Published by Dreamscape Media on August 3, 2021
Genres: Biography, Memoir, Nonfiction
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon

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.

I found this memoir/biography moving and well-written. I learned a great deal that I did not know about schizophrenia and also about the Korean War and its aftermath. It was fascinating to see how Cho weaved together her interest in food, especially learning to cook Korean food and becoming a baker, with her mother’s story. One of the most compelling parts of the book comes near the end when we learn how much Grace’s mother loved cheeseburgers—the book’s last line is a gut punch. There is also an extended section about how Grace’s mother foraged for mushrooms and blackberries, which turned into a savvy business. There is much to appreciate in this beautiful memoir, but its heart is Cho’s attempts to understand her mother.

I checked this out after it was featured on the main page of my library’s Overdrive website as part of the Big Library Read. As such, there was no waiting list, and unlimited copies were available for checkout. I don’t think that’s still the case, but I highly recommend checking it out, and the audiobook is superbly narrated by Cindy Kay.

Note: I am aware that Cho’s brother and his family dispute the veracity of this memoir. If you are interested in their side of the story, you can find it displayed prominently on Goodreads. I am also aware that the family members frequently respond to reviews, tweets, etc. about this book and will not get in the middle of a family dispute.


Reading Roundup: May-June 2021

I haven’t written any reviews in a couple of months as I prepared to defend my dissertation and had little time to do much of anything but that, but the good news is that I am now Dr. Huff! Here is a picture of me and my dissertation committee right after my dissertation chair referred to me as Dr. Huff for the very first time.

Dana Huff Dissertation Defense

I can’t remember if I have written about it here or not, but I joined Noom and lost nearly 40 pounds since November 2020. One of the things I did to get active and lose weight was take up walking. I walk at least 10,000 steps each day, usually more. As I walk, I listen to audiobooks, which has pretty much been the only way I’ve been able to read as much as I have over this year. Here are some quick reviews of the books I read in May and June (so far).

I read and enjoyed Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice, which is actually this book’s sequel, so after my husband and I listened to King Lear on audio, we decided to try this. If you like Python-esque humor, you’ll appreciate Christopher Moore.

This is a stellar book, and I’m glad I listened to it as I was able to rely on the narrator’s fluency with Vietnamese. I can see why the Goodreads review mentioned the books by Lee, Gyasi, and Ratner (all of which I’ve also read). If you liked any of those books, you will like this one for sure. I read this book as my selection for the Book Voyage Challenge’s book set in South Asia.

I learned so much from this book. I haven’t read very much about immigration and racism outside of the United States, and this book opened my eyes to a great deal of history I didn’t know. I really enjoy multigenerational family sagas. I read this book as my selection for the Book Voyage Challenge’s book set in North Asia. I read these last two books out of order, as I mistakenly thought the book set in South Asia was for April, but it was actually the book set in North Asia.

This book was given to me in a wonderful book swap I participated in via Twitter. I probably never would have picked it for myself, even though I love reading food histories. I learned a lot in this book, not the least America’s adoption of Chinese-American cuisine. I knew some of the fraught history with immigration, but there was still much to learn on that front as well.

I also re-read King Lear and A Thousand Acres.