Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
How I Learned to Cook: And Other Writings on Complex Mother-Daughter Relationships Paperback – March 25, 2004
|New from||Used from|
All Books, All the Time
Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
From Publishers Weekly
Mom-daughter relationships can be fraught with competition, hostility and, in some cases, threats about rat poison. Hillary Gamerow, who writes this anthology's title essay, describes a brittle, frightening mother who casually mentions one night that she's spiked the tuna casserole and that the whole family is doomed. She tells Gamerow, "In a couple of hours, you'll start getting pains in your stomach and you'll start foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. You know what 'rabid' means, right?" And this memory isn't even the book's most horrifying. Readers meet scary mothers of every stripe, from abusive to frosty. However, this isn't a pop psychology tome, where daughters write as a form of catharsis and achieve deep understanding by story's end. Every writer in the collection has such mixed feelings about her maternal force that acceptance isn't always a given. Some do find an untidy satisfaction and feminine truce, but it often seems fragile, as when Vivian Gornick, as an adult, confronts her maudlin mom about the nature of love and is rewarded by having to cower in the bathroom as her mother drives a fist through the door's frosted glass panel. These stories offer a remarkable display of confusion, helplessness and anger mixed with adoration and love, as well as formidable talent, with contributions from Alice Walker, Paula Fox, Joyce Maynard, Jamaica Kincaid and others. Although the range of writers makes for a mix of class and race, each woman's experience in being a daughter, and sometimes in becoming a mother, keeps the collection tightly focused.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Far from the comforting stories of mother-daughter bonding that might be anticipated from this anthology's title and cozy cover photo, the perceptive, cathartic essays collected here mostly recount loveless, dysfunctional relationships. Paula Fox is brutally honest in her description of being shuffled by her parents from orphanage to various relatives to boarding school, with only occasional visits home, one of which includes her mother's ultimatum to her father, "Either she goes or I go." Others recall mothers addicted to personality-morphing prescription drugs, mothers so thoroughly abused they never really were mothers, mothers who were mentally ill, and mothers who chose to ignore their husbands' inappropriate sexual attention to their daughters. Jamaica Kincaid's most vivid memory of childhood is that of her mother setting fire to her beloved books--punishment for failing to change her brother's diaper. Several essays are enlightening, most notably psychoanalyst Kim Chernin's tale of growing up the child of Communist parents in the McCarthy era. Curiously uplifting, since most readers' experiences, no matter how deficient, will seem glowing in comparison. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
When we are very little, we see our mothers only as we want to see them-all powerful and perfect. The older we get, the more we realize how untrue-and unfair-that perception is. How I Learned to Cook is a gripping look at the truth about mothers and daughters, and the matchless strength of the bonds we share. That is not to say it is a book full of heartwarming mother-daughter tales. The authors of these stories have reached deep into the vaults of their childhood memories, often exposing pain but always revealing the powerful affect of their mothers in their lives. As adults, they are able to look back and see their mothers as the very real and often very flawed women that they were and are. In some cases the scars of childhood are strong, and one can sense that the writer is still seeking answers and explanations, but in other stories there is an echo of love strengthened through time and understanding. None of these mothers is one-dimensionally caring or cruel, and this lovely and heartbreaking anthology is full of the explorations of this most complex of relationships.
Perin points out in the Introduction that fear of betraying or demeaning the image of the mother or one's own mother has kept many women from telling the truth of the pain inflicted on them in childhood by women who were supposed to protect them from all things. How I Learned to Cook brings some such examples painfully to life. There is Ruth Kluger's mother who, upon arriving in Auschwitz-Birkenau, calmly suggests to Ruth that they go together and throw themselves against the electric fencing. Or Hillary Gamerow's, who tells her young daughter simply one night that she has put rat poison in the family's dinner, and that they will all die in their sleep. When that turns out not to be true, she says, "Well, you never know. I could do it anytime, right?" Then there is the mother in "The Body Geographic," who watches with a gleam of satisfaction as her husband beats her daughter senseless. One cannot help but admire the bravery it must have taken for these women to tell their stories. They are kick-in-the-gut painful, to the point where it is often hard to believe they are real, but they are also gripping and written with lyricism touched with a grief that seeps through the pages.
There are other stories here too; stories where societal expectations and other outside forces shape the nature of the relationship between mother and daughter. Nawal el Saadawi tells of being raised in Egypt, her mother's love separated from her by a veil that is both literal and figurative. In "Home is Where Your Stuff Is" Helen Ruggieri describes her mother's obsession with cleaning and maintaining the "stuff" in her house-her attention to the domestic space she can control seemingly overtaking her ability to focus on the people living within it. In "Anybody Could See It" Elizabeth Payne reflects on her father's infidelity to her mother and the way both women struggled to recover from that betrayal. "Domestic Silence" tells the story of Meena's attempts to rescue her unwilling mother from her abusive marriage, leaving her feeling that she has been the caretaker all along, rather than the other way around.
The beauty of these stories is the authors' willingness to be honest, whether they are sharing the depth of love and respect they feel for the multi-faceted women that brought them into the world, or their deep-seated pain and anger at the betrayal of what we often view as the most natural of bonds. In most cases the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes, where real relationships exist in all their intricacies.
* Odds are this book will make you appreciate your own mother (I felt compelled to call mine and thank her for being wonderful), but I should point out it's not exactly the ideal Mother's Day gift...stick with flowers and keep this one for yourself.
When the topic of "familial abuse" surfaced in my family I did not want to believe it existed. Margo Perin pulls no punches. Abuse happens oftener than any of us would wish. Perin's collection of short memoirs is not just for a daughter to be prodded into saying "Oh yeah..I remember how it was!" Or for a mother to say: 'I wish I had been able to do better." A mother and a son: a father and a daughter: EVERYBODY has some story, and here is a book that will cause you to bring some memories out of the darkness/into the light, if only for a brief painful second: but that second is the beginning of healing...