The Memory Palace By Mira Bartok
Free Press, January 2011
Hardcover, 320 pages
Free Press, January 2011
Hardcover, 320 pages
(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)
Product Description (Courtesy of Simon and Schuster Publishing):
" 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.
Every now and then I'm fortunate enough to encounter a book that is not only elegantly written but also profoundly thought-provoking. The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok is one of those treasured books and could easily be classified as a literary masterpiece. Intertwined with the author's drawings and elegantly written prose, as well as the often obscure journal entries of her mentally-ill mother, Bartok provides the reader with an in-depth passage into a world that teeters between profound genius and hopeless insanity; a world in which two young sisters must not only navigate but eventually try to escape. Burdened with guilt and left in a constant state of wonder to what is true and what is a fiction of her mother's illness, Bartok reveals the challenges she and her sister endured and the ever-changing lack of adequate provisions of a defunct mental heath system.
But to suggest that this is simply a memoir of growing up with a schizophrenic mother, would be missing the overall point of this memoir completely. It's a memoir about memories and how to capture and hold on to those memories whether good or bad. The basic premise is "how will we remember our loved ones once they are no longer with us or when our own memory begins to fail us?" Thus, begins the construction of The Memory Palace...a place to capture our deepest and most profound memories.
This has certainly been one of the most mesmerizing and refreshing books that I have encountered in a very long time. My perception of the homeless and mentally-ill, which all too often go hand in hand, will forever be altered. I highly recommend this book and assure you it will stay with you long after you've read the last page. I easily give this book a 5 star rating.
Please visit thememorypalace.com for more information
*The Cleveland Women's Shelter that was home for Bartok's mother for several years, has now been re-named in her honor:
As An Added Side Note:
Living in the Cleveland area myself brought this book even closer to home for me. I will be attending a reading by Mira Bartok on Friday February 4th in Cleveland and will be sure to share this experience with you as well. For now, I thought I would include a couple of my favorite places in Cleveland that were frequented by the author as well and appear in her memoir:
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Saint Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral