Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: The Memory Palace

The Memory Palace ~ A Memoir~ By, Mira Bartok
Level: Adult
Publisher:Free Press copyright 2010

Starred Review. This moving, compassionately candid memoir by artist and children™s book author Bartok describes a life dominated by her gifted but schizophrenic mother. Bartók and her sister, Rachel, both of whom grew up in Cleveland, are abandoned by their novelist father and go to live with their mother at their maternal grandparents™ home. By 1990, a confrontation in which her mother cuts her with broken glass leads Bartók (née Myra Herr) to change her identity and flee the woman she calls œthe cry of madness in the dark. Eventually, the estrangement leaves her mother homeless, wandering with her belongings in a knapsack, writing letters to her daughter™s post office box. Reunited 17 years later, Bartók is suffering memory loss from an accident; her mother is 80 years old and dying from stomach cancer. Only through memories do they each find solace for their collective journey. Using a mnemonic technique from the Renaissance—a memory palace—Bartók imagines, chapter by chapter, a mansion whose rooms secure the treasured moments of her reconstructed past. With a key found stashed in her mother™s knapsack, she unlocks a rental storage room filled with paintings, diaries, and photos. Bartók turns these strangely parallel narratives and overlapping wonders into a haunting, almost patchwork, narrative that lyrically chronicles a complex mother-daughter relationship. (Feb.)
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This is the first memoir I have read in a number of years and it touched me on so many levels. Ms. Batok's hunting narrative of growing up with a mother suffering from mental illness, and her own struggles with traumatic brain injury, struck a chord with me on a personal level. She covers the topic with honesty and humor and never leaves you feeling like she is putting her mother down. The parallel routes her life and her mother's took during their seventeen years of estrangement were very thought provoking. You could feel the love Ms. Bartok had for her mother even in the years she was apart from her. She did a wonderful job of conveying how torn she was in wanting to lead her own life and be safe from her mother's delusions, and the pain she felt. There never was a time I was mad at her for her choice. In fact I totally knew where she was coming from. As much as this book was a daughter's memories and struggles with her mom, it was also a narrative of how hard it is for women to find themselves and their place in the world.

It was also a good study on the evolution of how we treat the mentally ill and the changes in the past thirty years that the mental health field has gone through. From being institutionalized and drugged, to shock treatments, to out patient treatments and half way houses, her mother experienced them all. How we continue to deal with the mentally ill is a evolving question. Ms. Bartok has first hand experience to draw on in getting services for her mother, and from having to fight for treatment of her own head injury after a serious car accident.

This book is amazing. I highly recommend it and will be reading it again.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. And in no way impacted the review's opinion of the book.

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