By Christine Salins
Bittersweet: Lessons from My Motherís Kitchen
By Matt McAllester (Allen & Unwin, $39.99, hardback, 275 pages)
Despite having spent six years reporting from many of the world’s most dangerous hot spots, foreign correspondent Matt McAllester was unprepared for the grief that overwhelmed him when his mother, Ann, died in May 2005.
The well-seasoned reporter was astonished at the intensity of his sorrow, for she had been largely absent from his life for more than two decades while she descended into madness.
For much of that time, she had been an alcoholic who experienced depressive episodes that drove even her closest family away. By the time she died, she was a shadow of the vibrant, warm, elegant woman she had once been.
In the months after her death, McAllester pored over old photos and letters as he tried to rediscover the woman he remembered from his childhood, the mother who had now vanished for a second time.
His sorrow exacerbated by his own inability to have children, he eventually found solace in the kitchen.
Delving into her cherished cookbooks, he realized that the best way to reconnect with her was through something they both treasured - the food she had lovingly prepared for her family before mental illness snatched her away from them.
With each taste of cassoulet, spare ribs, scones and homemade strawberry ice cream, McAllester remembered events from the past, resulting in Bittersweet, hisaccount of coming to terms with his mother’s death.
Writing the book was undoubtedly cathartic for McAllester but a memoir of grief has to resonate with readers in some way, otherwise it is just an endurance test. Bittersweet does.
A gifted and graceful storyteller, McAllester writes a moving and poignant tribute.
Interspersed with the occasional recipe, it’s a story of love and courage, mental illness and tragedy, motherhood and family bonds, acceptance and understanding.
Frank and unflinching in its honesty, it is a powerful yet tender story that you won’t want to put down.
To find out more about Christine Salins click here.