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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: 8.3 x 5.8 x 0.7 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: #2,210,304 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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This was one of the most amazing books I have read in a long time.
L. Barnett
Thank you for writing such a beautiful book about your Mother, who would have been so proud of such an intelligent & brave son.
andrew briggs
It has humor, tragedy and great insight and is fantastically well-written.
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 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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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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By LINA on May 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very moved by this book. After Matt McAllester's mother dies, he uses her cookbooks to reconnect with the warm, loving woman of his childhood, before she was consumed by mental illness. As he is doing so, he reflects on his own struggles to conceive a child with his new wife. It's an honestly written, multi-layered story that had me turning the pages. The writing was beautiful and sparse. I particularly liked the scenes of the author's childhood in Scotland. It was also interesting to read about how his mother's recipes were influenced by French and British cookbooks which I had never heard of. I loved his descriptions of learning to make delectable meals, filled with love, sadness, anger and forgiveness. Definitely a good book for a foodie and a wonderful book about love and loss.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Bloom on May 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Matthew McAllester's memoir is a beautifully written book about coming to terms with the death of his mother while he makes the difficult journey towards being a parent himself. A highly acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Matthew writes sparely but tenderly about a very sad and difficult subject - his mother's mental health issues and alcoholism which exploded into his life at an early age. He recounts her, and happier times in his childhood, through her recipe books which he has inherited, and memories of her love for food and cooking. In lesser hands this sort of memoir might have been overly-sentimental and clumsy, but Matthew's talents make it a great read. Just like all the food he learns to cook, eat and love, I gobbled down this book in a couple of days!
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