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Bittersweet: Lessons from My Mother's Kitchen Hardcover – April 14, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385342187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385342186
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this eloquent tribute, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist McAllester (Blinded by the Sunlight: Surviving Abu Ghraib and Saddam's Iraq) takes a break from global conflict to address a much more intimate struggle, his late mother's descent into mental illness. After learning of her death, McAllester pores through his mother's old collection of cookbooks in an attempt to reconnect with the loving woman he remembers. Using the wise work of British celebrity chef Elizabeth David, his mother's true north in all things culinary, McAllester masters cassoulet, lobster, elaborate omelets, and steak with bordelaise sauce, gaining not only in confidence and ability but in understanding and acceptance. The process involves McAllester's touching descriptions of his mother's dishes and the memories they elicit: strawberry ice cream, homemade bread and a stolen taste of fresh parsley all provoke fond stories of his mother in her prime. As he tries to makes sense of his mother's declining years, visiting past residences and even requesting her medical files, McAllester loses some of his enthusiasm for cooking, but brings his mother's complicated, troubled soul into focus. With this memoir, McAllester makes a fine, food-centric testament to the redemptive power of grief and acceptance.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

He may have garnered a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of grim and gritty wars in the Middle East, but McAllester’s emotional life still focuses on his late mother. Her debilitating mental illness left her nearly incapable of unconditional love for Matt and his sister, but her unflinching devotion to Elizabeth David’s cookery principles cut through the horror and left her son a remarkable bequest to enlighten his life. The family started out in London, but they soon decamped for the primitive Scottish Atlantic coast. As he recounts his mother’s life, McAllester interleaves her story with that of his own marriage and the couple’s attempts to have children via in vitro fertilization. McAllester’s own deeply conflicted religious attitudes surface often, but his day-to-day practical psychological anchor is the sustenance that comes from cooking as his mother did. The book’s many sensitive photographs are a legacy of McAllester’s father, a professional photographer. --Mark Knoblauch

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The writing was beautiful and sparse.
LINA
Whether you love to read about other peoples love of cooking or are currently working through the grieving process yourself - I highly recommend this book!!
L. Barnett
This is one of the most moving books I've read in a long time.
Amy B. Sherman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David A. Lawrence on April 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A moving and fascinating book by a gifted journalist, who focuses his investigative talents this time on his own childhood. Years covering the world's most complicated conflict zones apparently gave McAlester great practice at untangling individual tragedy and spinning it into elegant and lucid prose. He does the same thing with his own life-story, reliving painful memories of anger and love for his mentally-ill mother. Though it's unique, McAlester makes the memoir universal somehow by relating it all through the comfort foods his mother made for him during her best times. It was a pleasure to read despite the sadness.

David Lawrence
Albion, Maine
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amy B. Sherman on June 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most moving books I've read in a long time. Haunting even. It is a memoir with recipes but so much more. It's one man's journey through grief and memory to come to a greater understanding of his mother. It has humor, tragedy and great insight and is fantastically well-written. Parts of it are profoundly sad, but it is by no means "depressing" or "detached." If anything its ultimate end is the opposite.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Myfanwy Collins on April 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Add one part angry, neglected child and one part probing, heartbroken adult and you have a recipe for a brave, honest, and touching book. I was deeply touched by the portrait of this mother--flawed though she was--she was still the glue that held the family together, however tenuously. Along with the eloquent prose, the photographs tell a touching tale of a family in love--the sadness is learning the undercurrent beneath these photos, that each of the family members was struggling to hold on to the beautiful image portrayed. In the end, the taste left in your mouth will be one of satisfaction--knowing that a family rooted in love, will stay together no matter what.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By L. Kaplow on December 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
That "Bittersweet" would be a moving memoir is no surprise. It's written by one of our generation's most compelling chroniclers of humanity in conflict, who now turns his skills toward his fraught relationship with his mother, a woman burdened with demons, stifled ambitions and insanities. It's easy to lump it in with other "cooking" memoirs ("Julie and Julia" has already been referenced here) or reflections on motherhood but it's much more.
This book ranges from lighter questions about modern day detachment (topical enough to be the subject of "Up in the Air" in cinemas) and health care indifference to deeper issues like neglect, guilt and love. The themes are carefully unveiled in a plot arc with an emotional twist at the ending. (Disclosure: I'm a friend of the author's but not an automatic cheerleader for his work).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. Barnett on June 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This was one of the most amazing books I have read in a long time. Beautifully written, Matt takes us along on his journey as he grapples with the death of his mother and the depths of his grief. He reminds us that food should not just be about eating, but about the joy of feeding others.
Whether you love to read about other peoples love of cooking or are currently working through the grieving process yourself - I highly recommend this book!!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alison Mcquade on June 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Matt McAllester's Bittersweet covers a difficult and painful subject - mental illness and alcoholism - I couldn't put the book down and was sad when it ended as I felt i had come to know the characters involved. scattered throughout are recipes recreated from his mother's cookbooks and notes. His descriptions of meals and nurturing his wife with tasty morsels had my mouth watering......wish i were a guest at that house! Matt, a former war correspondent with Newsday takes on this difficult subject while remembering happier times with his family through the meals his mother would make....just brilliant! happy reading.
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