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All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments Hardcover – September 27, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Haunting, unflinching and at times unexpectedly hilarious… Witchel offers up a fiercely honest account of how her adored mother slowly began 'disappearing in plain sight'… A book that may make you cry (I did), but through some mysterious alchemy it will also leave you with many positive feelings. It will make you smile and even laugh out loud… A powerful affirmation of family bonds, of the soul-sustaining love—and special dishes shared in beloved company—that persist from generation to generation.” –The New York Times Book Review

"In this warm memoir, Witchel recounts her mother’s mental decline and the solace she derived from preparing family recipes. I related to the author’s desire to hold fast to her mother. My mom embodies so much: family, traditions, home. I worry about how I’ll cope when she passes away someday. This book was a comfort, reminding me that nothing can ever rob me of her love." –Real Simple

"[Witchel's] recipes are simple family classics. With their invocations of old-time staples like Del Monte tomato sauce and Lawry’s seasoned salt, they’re humble reminders of the many small acts of care that hold a family together. On the page, they stand as incantations." –The Daily Beast

“Witchel writes beautifully from the heart, but with a journalist's clarity… [She] reminds readers that family relationships are precious and time is fleeting.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“As Ms. Witchel wisecracks, ‘In our house, it was always the old days.’ All Gone… pay[s] homage to those days. As do the clever comebacks Ms. Witchel scatters throughout… Still, she gives the best lines to her mother, [who,] even as she free falls… delivers good dialogue.” –Rachel Shteir, The New York Times

“Bittersweet, with levity.” –Good Housekeeping

“Moving.” –People

"A short, lovely memoir, moving in its description of grief and loss, the painfully slow loss, of a beloved parent, never self-indulgent and with enough bright spots to balance the blackness… And there is a moment at the end… that brought me to a full-on weep." –Michael Ruhlman

“Food… comes from a different quadrant of [Witchel’s] universe, a space where she can hold a sort of mental conversation with a beloved parent no longer able to converse. And what a parent! …My mother, like Alex’s, cooked the day’s meals not for pleasure or adventure but as an unromantic responsibility that maintained stable, loving order in our small bit of the cosmos. I read “All Gone” marveling that I could ever have looked down on, rather than up to, such an achievement. It’s an honor to meet Barbara Witchel as she was before her mind was ravaged, and celebrate the kind of cooking she stands for.” –Anne Mendelson, ZesterDaily.com

“A moving tribute… that reminds those whose child–parent relationship has flipped that they are not alone.” –SheKnows.com

“Funny and poignant… a complex mother-daughter love story.” –Maclean’s

“A testament to love, tenacity and the power of home cooking” –MORE Magazine

"In this recipie-dotted memoir, Alex Witchel finds solace among the saucepans as her beloved mother slips away... [Includes] witty culinary asides and nuggets of maternal wisdom." –Whole Living

"Warm and always humane, Witchel's narrative is a poignant, candid reminder of the new normal that now defines so many adult child-aging parent relationships." –Kirkus

“I cannot get over how good Alex Witchel’s writing is. I wish I could park my desk next to hers and learn how to write sentences even half as efficient and muscular and poignant. No one is smarter, funnier, or more graceful. And there’s no one whose kitchen I’d rather be invited into.” –Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones and Butter

“Alex Witchel takes us on an extraordinary journey of the mind and heart as a vibrant parent fades into dementia. She shows us that despite profound loss, we can nourish ourselves with memories that sustain love and give comfort. This book of sharp honesty and deep insight illuminates a time in life when so many of us seek understanding.” –Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think and The Anatomy of Hope

"Alex Witchel is a heroic and funny war correspondent who explains, once and for all, why it's called the nuclear family." –Fran Lebowitz

“This is a story of love and loss told as only Alex Witchel can tell it—with the extraordinary warmth and humor she brings to all of her work. I loved reading it!” –Ina Garten

About the Author

Alex Witchel is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and originated the popular “Feed Me” column for the Dining section. The author of three previous books, she has also written for New York, Vogue, Elle, and Ladies’ Home Journal, among other publications. She lives in New York with her husband, Frank Rich.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (September 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159448791X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487910
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #980,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Alex Witchel has provided us with a memoir that celebrates the joys of life, grieves its sorrows, and then fills the sorrowful stomach with food. Part cookbook, part love story, this unlikely combination brings a unique type of memoir to the bookshelves and its arrival is welcome.

This is the story of a daughter who watched helplessly as her sharp-minded professor-mother lost her edge and began "disappearing in plain sight" at the hands of dementia. After a prescription for Xanax is abandoned, former a New York Time's food columnist, turns to the kitchen instead to cope with her grief. Since the author had the foresight to gather a folder of her mother's favorite recipes, she set to work recreating these favorites as means of bringing her mother back with all the aromas, sights, and sounds of her kitchen.

The author's mother, Barbra Witchel, a working mother of four, had a cooking style the author describes as modern-convenient. She wasn't afraid to use a can of tomato soup or a handful of corn flakes in her meatloaf. Who has the time to make tomato soup anyways? For modern readers who find the cooking matriarch Julia Childs' recipes a little out of reach, these recipes (especially the meatloaf) will be a welcome addition to the 21st century kitchens of busy mothers.

Witchel's experience will likely resonate with many adults who have watched in dismay as a the mind of a beloved parent or grandparent has disappeared before our eyes, leaving us to care for the body of an old friend but the mind of a new one. Taking over her mother's care taking responsibilities was so consuming that the author once claimed her mother's 1931 birthdate as her own out of habit.

"All Gone," is not mostly a sad book, though it may make you cry.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Having had a similar experience to the author's with my own mom, I could certainly relate to the mental/psychological/emotional struggles she recounts in this book. However, as one reviewer says, her memoir is a bit "thin." I didn't find the recipe conceit to work well, especially when it doesn't seem that food and cooking were really that much an integral part of her family history. While I completely understand that the tedium of life with a loved one who is literally losing her mind is a very challenging narrative to address, I found Witchel's detours into her own career (New York Times, here we go again in another memoir) and her lack of detail about her father and her parents' relationship to be glaring. Finding a caregiver like the one she did is a godsend and literally almost impossible to accomplish; I was envious. What I did like was the manner in which the author addressed the guilt, the letting go, the finding a way to accept the unacceptable. More of this and less of the name-dropping and potato pancakes would have been better.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book at the airport on the way to take care of my 89 year old mother who does not suffer with dementia, but is steadily losing interest in things she once enjoyed immensely, e.g., reading a book a week and working the New York Times Crossword puzzle daily. In writing about losing her mother bit by precious bit, Alex Witchel tells a story of what happens to all of us when we begin to lose those we love, and what we can do to help them die happy. This book is an insightful treasure in how family crises can bring out the best and worst in us. What saves the author from despair is the steady loving focus on her mother, not on how hard it is personally to live with the loss...though both are woven beautifully into this story. Because my mother still enjoys the foods she's always loved, cooking her favorites is something we both enjoy, as did Alex Witchel and her mother. Favorite recipes are woven into the story, and it only took a few pages before she had me at "meatloaf." This book is a heartwarming love letter from a dutiful daughter to her soulfully loved mother. I have since bought five copies of this book to give to friends who are living the heartbreaking story of seeing their loved ones disconnect from this world as they move toward what I believe is the everlasting life from which they were born. If you are looking for a perfect gift to give those who are helping loved ones die happy, treat yourself to this wonderful book.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been on quite a memoir kick as of late. Each has been better than the last and thankfully, All Gone followed that pattern as well.

In All Gone, author Alex Witchel recounts her mother's battle with dementia. With refreshments, of course. The book begins with how Ms. Witchel copes by cooking her mother's recipes, using food as a way to bridge the gap between who her mother was and is becoming. Each chapter ends with a difference recipe from Alex's collection, recipes formed not only in food but memories. All Gone is packed with sentiment. She portrayers her dilemma with heartbreaking truthfulness. As a reader, I felt her grief, her sadness at losing her mother although she is presently here in body. As Alex says, gone but not gone.

This memoir touched me deeply especially since my parents are getting older. I read this partially in fear of what I might have to go through. I hope that if I was ever in the same situation, I would survive with as much poise and grace as Ms. Witchel has. The beauty in this memoir not in the coping though. It is in how Ms. Witchel finds her way back to herself.

I believe foodies and non-foodies alike will enjoy this short memoir. It also inspired by to search out my own family recipes, to learn how to make them with as much love as my parents cook and to make my own food memories.
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