Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Memory Palace; Mira Bartok



Title: The Memory Palace 
Author: Mira Bartok
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Edition: ARC
Source: Publisher
Date Completed: 2/11/2011
Setting: Cleveland, Ohio and US
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Recommend: Yes


The Memory Palace is a compelling and somewhat disturbing book about growing up with a schizophrenic mother.  As children, Mira and Rachel were sisters living in Cleveland  with their divorced mother Norma Herr.  Both parents were intelligent and destined for greatness. Paul Herr was an author whose first book was published in 1961, but alcohol took over his life and he left his wife and children when the girls were just four and five years old. A man who could not rid himself of his own demons, he ended up alone and when he died was buried in a pauper's grave, because his next of kin could not be located.

The story is really more about Norma Herr. She too was destined for greatness.  A child prodigy, a pianist, and even a writer  -- later learned through her journals.  However, at around the age of nineteen she began exhibiting signs of schizophrenia. When the girls were just children, Norma tried to jump from a second floor window.  When strange behaviors intensified, as they routinely did, Mira's grandmother would intervene by making a call, and Norma was often hospitalized.  Norma would often obsess about the lives of her daughters, sometimes calling them as many as fifty times a day. Finally, as adults, the sisters make a painful decision to break free of their mother. They change their names, phone numbers and use a post office box so that their mother is not able to contact them directly.  For Norma, the years that followed were spent at several homeless shelters or on the streets.

It wasn't until some seventeen years later, after Mira suffered a brain injury from an automobile accident, causing her to lose some of her memory, that she and her mother are reunited.  When mother and daughter do meet again in 2006, Norma is dying from cancer, and through various possessions that her mother has stored at a storage locker, images of their past slowly resurface, and much of the story is revealed.

The Memory Palace is a powerful and  unforgettable memoir that is well written, and worth reading. It's a story that makes you think about how  family, although sometimes flawed, it is still family and it is sometimes impossible to escape. Recommended.

22 comments:

  1. u and i must be on the same wavelength. i saw a writeup on this..

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  2. This sounds like one to go on my must read list.

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  3. What a heartbreaking choice to have to make - completely break from your own mother!

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  4. Beautiful review. I'm glad you read it and reviewed it. I was curious what you would think.

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  5. This sounds like a really interesting memoir. One for the wish list! Thanks for the great review.

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  6. This is one I saw somewhere...and thought: I should read this! It sounds great.

    I worked for several years with clients who had various problems, including mental illness and/or drug addiction.

    Why would I want to read about it? I don't know, but that's one of my quirks...LOL.

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  7. Your review conveys that this is a powerful book.

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  8. Wow, this sounds incredibly intense. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to make that decision. Thanks for the wonderful review, I will be reading this one.

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  9. I know I'm way behind in commenting here but was particularly glad to hear your comment on MS PETTIGREW as I've been dancing around purchasing that book for ages and now it's on the buy 2 get one free shelf at B&N. However, better yet, as you suggest, I will look at the library for the audio version - excellent! Thanks, B!

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  10. For some reason I am just fascinated with stories like this. I'm glad to see this one is so well written.

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  11. This sounds really intense and sad ... just what I like in memoirs sometimes.

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  12. This sounds a very good story - emotional too.

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  13. I have this one on my "to read" list. Thanks for the review, I am looking forward to reading it! Annie

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  14. I haven't read a memoir yet this year. This one sounds very good!

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  15. I really want to read this book, more to address my one question about why the author left her mother. I'm sure it was painful, but I really want to be convinced that there was no other "good" option. Sounds like a really powerful memoir.

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  16. I am going to be reading this one soon, and am excited about it. It sounds like a dark story, but one that is also excellently portrayed. It will be interesting to see what eventually becomes of the mother/daughter relationship. Great review!

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  17. What a terribly sad story. You pick the best books to review Diane!

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  18. I hate to admit this, but I don't know if I have the strength to read this one. I have a tendency to cry quite a bit during these types of memoirs, so I don't know if I can handle it. It just sounds so beautiful, though, that I may need to really take a look at it before I make a final decision on it...your review is wonderful, so it's making it difficult for me to decide.

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  19. I have been holding off reading this one until reading a few reviews. I glad to see you really liked this book.

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  20. This is definitely going on my list!

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  21. This one goes into my wish list too!

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