Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartók Book Review

Summary of Book:

 “ 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.
(Source: Goodreads)

About the Author:

Mira Bartók is a Chicago-born artist and writer and the author of twenty-eight books for children. Her writing has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies and has been noted in The Best American Essays series. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she runs Mira’s List (, a blog that helps artists find funding and residencies all over the world. The Memory Palace is Mira’s first book for adults.  You can find her at:
·        Hardcover: 320 pages
·        Publisher: Free Press (January 11, 2011)
·        Language: English
·        ISBN-10: 1439183317
·        ISBN-13: 978-1439183311

My Personal Review:

I would give this book a 4.5 out of 5.  It is not a book to grab, if you are looking for a quick and easy read.  I ended up spending 4 days on this book, as I would stop and reflect on what I had read before reading further.  This is a true story, and follows Mira on her journey of forgiveness with her mother.  Mira’s book shows the reader the true meaning of truth, love and the capacity for forgiveness.  Both Mira and her sister show extreme courage in how each of them deal with their mother and the situations that unfold in their lives growing up.  I loved how Mira was able to take the reader through her childhood memories, based on objects and journals that belonged to her mentally ill mother.  It was not until their mother was on her deathbed that Mira and her sister were able to reunite with her and truly forgive her.  Please note that the portion of the book that deals with Mira’s mother’s death is written as though it is happening while you are reading it.  This was a tough part to read, and left me in tears.  It is written so sincerely and without reservation.  If you like personal memoirs, I would highly suggest you picking up The Memory Palace. 

Disclosure: This review is posted in conjunction with The Free Press Blog Tour. I received a free copy of this memoir in exchange for my honest opinion.

1 comment :

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