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Book Review | Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho

From the publisher: 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.

Cho’s memoir is a beautiful and heart wrenching blend of food, reflections on racism in America (especially rural America), and the multifaceted struggles of mental illness (especially in “older” women of color). Her reflections are very deeply thought out and articulate, and she takes great care in exploring each issue minutely. Cho is a very intelligent person– she has a doctorate in Sociology and Women’s Studies– and it shows in her writing without being overbearing or condescending. In addition to her firsthand experiences, it is obvious that she has dedicated a lot of research to back up her writing.

It’s easy to feel close to Grace because she’s so honest about her thoughts and feelings. She isn’t afraid to question her own perceptions and actions, and the way she describes events with such detail and emotion makes it easy for the reader to empathize with her. Though she writes in a flowing, easy-to-digest style, Cho’s non-linear time skips made the timeline a bit hard to follow at times. Perhaps this would have been easier to follow in print– I listened to the audiobook version, which is available on Libby. It is 10 hours long and narrated by Cindy Kay, who does a good job of distinguishing speakers.

Though I was already familiar with schizophrenia and the effects it can have on families, I liked how in-depth Cho questioned what triggered her mother’s psychosis. Cho explores the nuances of her mother’s difficult upbringing influenced by Imperial Japan, the Korean War, and the United States military presence in addition to broader influences such as migrant experiences in the United States and the patriarchy. Throughout the story, Cho weaves the idea that these factors likely had an impact on her mother’s mental health. Overall, this is a fascinating read that covers a lot of ground.