In the tradition of The Glass Castle, two sisters confront schizophrenia in this poignant literary memoir about family and mental illness. Through stunning prose and original art, The Memory Palace captures the love between mother and daughter, the complex meaning of truth, and family’s capacity for forgiveness
“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, a debilitating car accident changes Mira’s life forever. Struggling 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.
This moving, compassionately candid memoir by artist and children s book author Bartok describes a life dominated by her gifted but schizophrenic mother. Bart k 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 Bart k (n e Myra Herr) to change her identity and flee the woman she calls the 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, Bart k 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 Bart k 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. Bart k turns these strangely parallel narratives and overlapping wonders into a haunting, almost patchwork, narrative that lyrically chronicles a complex mother-daughter relationship.
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The Memory Palace
Not always an easy read, this book was assigned to me during nursing school. I was interested in the underlying theme of traumatic brain injury and mental illness almost more than the recanting of memories. It took me time to really get into the book and feel the need to read more, however I found many passages very insightful, poignant and articulated in a way only the survivor of a TBI could understand. In the end, the book struck a chord for me two fold: one as a TBI sufferer who looks normal on the outside but who has to work hard to be "normal" and two, as a person who sees chronically mentally ill people in the ER where I work. The author is very correct in saying that there is a population of people suffering without care. And a society who doesn't understand the complexity or need for long term management.
I do feel this also showcases another sad reality of mental illness and children.
Liked the concept
The book was not a bad one but it dragged on at the end. I skipped a few pages to get it done because what she wrote wasn't necessary information at the end. Didn't completely hold my interest, I sort of thought the daughters were selfish to leave their mother homeless when not once did they go without some kind of a home. Tsk tsk.
Amazing read....can't put down
This books makes you see the other side of mental illness. It shows more importantly the bond of mother and child that can never be truly broken.