Title: The Memory Palace
Author: Mira Bartok
Review: I have lived with and worked with Schizophrenia, I spent over two years managing apartments and working in group homes with the mentally ill while in college. I managed a home later with developmentally delayed individuals along with several mentally ill clients who lived on their own and only needed daily or weekly visits. And yet I still cannot imagine living with this day in and day out as a child who knows nothing else. Life with a parent who is schizophrenic has to be one of the most scary things to happen to a child. You learn how the world works by example and if your only example sees things, hears things and reacts to things that aren’t really there how can a child deal with that?
This book is filled with heartache and yet triumph that these two women were able to rise above their upbringing and become productive adults after all they went through with their mother. A crazy mother and no stability in everyday life causes problems and the idea that they cut of contact with their mother for over 17 years is OK by me. What else could they have done in this situation? In my opinion; Until you live their lives you have no place to judge their actions.
The reason I gave the book 3 ½ stars was that I felt some of the story was confusing and long winded in parts and yet interesting in others but to short and condensed to really get a feeling for her struggle. My heart goes out to Mira and the struggle it was to be with her mother and without her. Guilt over lost time with her plays hugely in this book, but what was she to do? There is only so much a person can handle and I think she paid her dues. She focused the book on her life and the struggles, not on blaming her mother or God for that matter.
I cannot figure out who I would suggest this book for, maybe everyone, but it was an interesting story that broke my heart at times and I hope the best for the author and her family.
Publisher: Published January 11th 2011 by Free Press
Quick Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Why I Read It: The publisher was looking for reviewers, it sounded interesting.
Where I Obtained the Book: Sent by the publisher
Synopsis: “ People have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you’ve been through,” Mira Bartók is told at her mother’s memorial service. It is a poignant observation about the relationship between Mira, her sister, and their mentally ill mother. Before she was struck with schizophrenia at the age of nineteen, beautiful piano protégé Norma Herr had been the most vibrant personality in the room. She loved her daughters and did her best to raise them well, but as her mental state deteriorated, Norma spoke less about Chopin and more about Nazis and her fear that her daughters would be kidnapped, murdered, or raped.
When the girls left for college, the harassment escalated—Norma called them obsessively, appeared at their apartments or jobs, threatened to kill herself if they did not return home. After a traumatic encounter, Mira and her sister were left with no choice but to change their names and sever all contact with Norma in order to stay safe. But while Mira pursued her career as an artist—exploring the ancient romance of Florence, the eerie mysticism of northern Norway, and the raw desert of Israel—the haunting memories of her mother were never far away.
Then one day, Mira’s life changed forever after a debilitating car accident. As she struggled to recover from a traumatic brain injury, she was confronted with a need to recontextualize her life—she had to relearn how to paint, read, and interact with the outside world. In her search for a way back to her lost self, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where she believed her mother was living and discovered that Norma was dying.
Mira and her sister traveled to Cleveland, where they shared an extraordinary reconciliation with their mother that none of them had thought possible. At the hospital, Mira discovered a set of keys that opened a storage unit Norma had been keeping for seventeen years. Filled with family photos, childhood toys, and ephemera from Norma’s life, the storage unit brought back a flood of previous memories that Mira had thought were lost to her forever.
The Memory Palace is a breathtaking literary memoir about the complex meaning of love, truth, and the capacity for forgiveness among family. Through stunning prose and original art created by the author in tandem with the text, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.
Author Biography: Mira Bartok is an artist and writer living in Massachusetts. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been noted in The Best American Essays 1999 and other anthologies. She is the author of over twenty-eight books for children and author/illustrated of the New York Times bestselling memoir, THE MEMORY PALACE, published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster Mira also runs an online resource for artists iraslist.blogspot.com. You can listen to Mira interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.