Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Memory Palace

Mira Bartok's memoir The Memory Palace seems to follow along nicely with Susan Henderson's Up From the Blue - at least in terms of incapable mothering. Bartok's memoir has been compared to Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle,but even though I sometimes feel there are already plenty of books out there about dysfunctional families, another one pops up that changes my mind. the Memory Palace is one of those books.

Unfortunately I had to return The Memory Palace to the library because this is a book that I actually had flagged several passages in to share (a rare event!). Bartok's writing is beautiful, and she is able to write about her reunion with her dying mother after a seventeen year absence. From that starting point, Bartok travels back in time to her childhood as she and her sister Natalia visit a storage facility that contains their mother's possessions. They are reunited with familiar bits of their childhood, and also introduced to a wide assortment of their mother's treasures. Included in the storage unit are notebooks their mother kept, that her daughters can now read. While the notebooks show their mother's mind to be scattered, it also shows wide ranging interests and intelligence, a curiosity about many things. Before mental illness consumed their mother, she was a musical prodigy with a bright future. Yet, with schizophrenia's onset, this talented musician was left unable to live in the real world. Although both Bartok and her sister survived their childhood, they also knew that in order to move on they would need to cut their ties with their mother. Her incessant phone calls and ability to track them down made their own lives nearly impossible. Both women even went as far as to change their names so their mother couldn't find them. While this may sound heartless, both women viewed it as necessary. Now they have returned to be with their mother at the end of her life.

Bartok's father, who she didn't know after early childhood, was an accomplished author, and her sister is also a writer. Bartok has a way with words herself. I appreciated her recollections of events in her life, and also her ability to realize that memories continue to form and change; we are all building a memory palace of our own lives. Also amazing to me is the fact that Bartok suffered a brain injury in an automobile accident. This has made writing difficult for her. The monumental task this book was for her is hard for me to believe as each word is perfect. I wonder how long Bartok slaved over each phrase, each sentence.

Reading The Memory Palace reaffirms my love of memoirs. Bartok's book is wonderful.


Kate said...

Ooh - this sounds like a good one!

I linked this in my Friday Five! Have a great weekend.

UK said...

This is a story of survival, as much as it is about love, redemption, and finally grace. Hooked by the first sentences, I was drawn into a world I could barely imagine, and elevated by the strength and courage these remarkable women displayed. The Memory Palace is written just beautifully. it's haunting images and evocative voices will stay with you for a good, long time.