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The Memory Palace: A Memoir

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for The Memory Palace: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mira

    I wrote this book. :-) If you like it, please tell others about it. And visit my website later this fall when it's up and running: www.mirabartok.com I am also trying to raise money for my mother's shelter so keep your eye on upcoming events in early 2011. Best wishes, Mira Bartok I wrote this book. :-) If you like it, please tell others about it. And visit my website later this fall when it's up and running: www.mirabartok.com I am also trying to raise money for my mother's shelter so keep your eye on upcoming events in early 2011. Best wishes, Mira Bartok

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    I read 130 Pages before deciding I'd had enough. The book just seemed to be a little too scattered for me, and not sure who it was really about. Too many minor details, besides being quite depressing, and I just kept feeling like I was reading the same event over and over again, in a way. I get that the whole family is artistic and that it was a terrible waste for her mother to be as she was, but just as the oldest daughter was able to run away and hide from her mother for so many years, I also I read 130 Pages before deciding I'd had enough. The book just seemed to be a little too scattered for me, and not sure who it was really about. Too many minor details, besides being quite depressing, and I just kept feeling like I was reading the same event over and over again, in a way. I get that the whole family is artistic and that it was a terrible waste for her mother to be as she was, but just as the oldest daughter was able to run away and hide from her mother for so many years, I also found myself having trouble sticking around to hear (in great, altho out of sequence, detail) about the younger daughter's dealings with her. Maybe it was the mix of old and new realities mixed with dreams mixed with her mother's wild, random notes (with her daughter's headings added) ... it just didn't quite engage me enough to want to finish. I could tell when I kept thinking of what my next book to read should be as I was reading this one. That shouldn't be happening if I'm really into a book, so I am (somewhat reluctantly) giving up.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    This memoir was incredible. I don't need to debate how to rate it. Bartok hit it out of the ballpark. She and her mom and sister pass through, aspire to, or survive, family life, abusive men, homelessness, classrooms, shelters, museums, concert halls, loving husbands, freedom, religion, myths, reality, etc. not to mention their divergent perceptions of the same. Mostly what the book is about is the three of them trying to stay attached without being destroyed by the mother’s schizophrenia. When This memoir was incredible. I don't need to debate how to rate it. Bartok hit it out of the ballpark. She and her mom and sister pass through, aspire to, or survive, family life, abusive men, homelessness, classrooms, shelters, museums, concert halls, loving husbands, freedom, religion, myths, reality, etc. not to mention their divergent perceptions of the same. Mostly what the book is about is the three of them trying to stay attached without being destroyed by the mother’s schizophrenia. When she could love she loved but so often her illness hog tied and distorted her motherly intentions. As you can imagine this was especially hard after the girls’ alcoholic father bails and they are left alone to not only raise themselves but to care for their mother. I was amazed at how well they managed to cope though I don’t want to downplay the difficulties they went through. For Mira and her sister they find some peace and forgiveness at their elderly mother dies surrounded by the friends she picked on the streets and at various in women’s shelters. Memoirs don’t get any more naked than this.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sasa

    *Goodreads Giveaway. PROS: - Easy read. - Poignant storytelling. - Engaging from the get-go. - Incredible prose. - Gives great insight into mental disability. - Every single character in her life had personality and made a significant contribution to the book no matter how minor their role. - I loved how marginalized groups were not made ambiguous. For example, "the black woman in a pink coat" versus "the dark woman in a pink coat." Gave more clarity and identity to people which I now appreciate. - Audi *Goodreads Giveaway. PROS: - Easy read. - Poignant storytelling. - Engaging from the get-go. - Incredible prose. - Gives great insight into mental disability. - Every single character in her life had personality and made a significant contribution to the book no matter how minor their role. - I loved how marginalized groups were not made ambiguous. For example, "the black woman in a pink coat" versus "the dark woman in a pink coat." Gave more clarity and identity to people which I now appreciate. - Audience was shown things, not merely told. CONS: - None. This book is beautiful. COMMENTS: I won this book as a Goodreads Giveaway and I'm so glad I did. I rarely ever read memoirs and when I do, they're usually about privileged white folk with nothing to do except a) wallow in their misery, b) talk shit about the world, c) pull purple prose out of their asses, d) sit around and do absolutely nothing to mend their "horrible" privileged situation, or e) a combination of all. They are a huge waste of time for the audience to read and for the author to write. However, I was very happy to find that The Memory Palace did not fit in any of these categories. The beginning of each chapter usually tells a fun fact that's relative to the entire section. In the end of each chapter, it always circles back to it. The fact and the way she applied it to situations that occurred in her life isn't like anything else I've ever read. I'm glad for Bartok's powerful memory and incredible writing style because it taught me a lot about homelessness and mental disability. Bartok's memoir was incredibly engaging and evoked so many emotions people don't normally feel throughout a novel—joy, fear, warmth, sadness (made me cry several times), confusion, grief, empathy, etc. Usually novels only provoke one or two emotions out of me but this was just a plethora of powerful feelings, sometimes at once. Her life is very exciting, terrifying, depressing, and most of all, beautiful. I personally think this should be a literary classic and made into an official high school reading requirement. I believe it could teach impressionable young people a lot about compassion, possibly inspiring action. Not only did the author honor the memory of her mother, but she did a great service for homeless people living with mental disabilities—something the American government always fails to do. As a society, we need to understand why people are forced into homelessness, especially when they are affected by mental disabilities as severe as Bartok's mother's (schizophrenia). Bartok's memoir illustrates why it's difficult for families who do not have the wealth, resources, and legal capacity to provide proper care for them. Like a broken limb, if left untended to, mental illness will develop to become severe enough to be fatal. It's not given the attention it needs because there's little to no visible physical ailments. This book depicts that it can not only threaten the person who lives with it, but it threatens the lives of the people in their lives as well. If the government and more people heard what schizophrenia is actually like, mental disability would have far more funding (VIDEO TRIGGER WARNING: noises compiled by scientists to accurately depict schizophrenia—very startling and may trigger anxiety for some people). This book could be a gateway to being more compassionate and understanding about people who live with mental illnesses and are pushed to homelessness. This was the best and most brilliant way Bartok could have dedicated something to her mother. I thank her for this poignant gem and am definitely going to be recommending this book to others, especially those who need a better understanding into the mind of people affected by mental disabilities.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Linda C

    This is another tough book to rate. Ideally, I would give it 3 1/2 stars, but settled for three, since it didn't quite qualify for the fourth star. It was beautifully written, but that might be its flaw; it was too beautifully written. I felt that Mira Bartok wanted to present her mother in a favorable light and so glossed over the more unpleasant aspects of her mother's illness. I just didn't believe that her mother's behavior was so extreme that the author and her sister both had to change thei This is another tough book to rate. Ideally, I would give it 3 1/2 stars, but settled for three, since it didn't quite qualify for the fourth star. It was beautifully written, but that might be its flaw; it was too beautifully written. I felt that Mira Bartok wanted to present her mother in a favorable light and so glossed over the more unpleasant aspects of her mother's illness. I just didn't believe that her mother's behavior was so extreme that the author and her sister both had to change their names and keep their addresses secret in order to protect themselves from her. Bartok writes that she was always keeping secrets, which she still kept even in the book. She wanted us to be sympathetic to her mother, so she didn't share exactly how destructive her mother was. I also grew up with a mother that was mentally ill, so I know personally how destructive growing up in that kind of atmosphere is. Mira and her sister were certainly damaged by it, but she failed to convey the severity of the behavior and the damage. I also took exception to the quote by the social worker (also repeated in one of the book club questions) that children have "abandoned" their parents for less than the girls endured. While it was supposed to convey a gold star to Mira and her sister, it was extremely judgmental for the vast majority of adult children who have to remove themselves from their family situation. The girls raised themselves, and while it was lovely for them that Mira and Natalia wanted to take care of their mother at the end of her life, it was extremely unrealistic. Their mother gave them things in their lives, art and music, specifically, that they could hold onto in the dark times. In other words, they were able to separate their mother from the illness. Most of us can't do that-- our parents and the illnesses are interchangeable. So read this book as a beautifully written memoir, not about living with a parent with mental illness, bur rather living with an brilliant artistic parent who happens to have schizophrenia. Just don't believe that it is a roadmap about living with a mentally ill parent, because it's not. Out of curiosity, I perused some of the 1 and 2 star reviews-- the majority of bad reviews were because the book was "too depressing" or "too bleak." Believe me, it was not nearly bleak enough. Reality is much worse.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Gray

    This was a mixed bag for me. It was extremely well written by a talented author, but despite the fact that it is a memoir of the author's mother's mental illness, I found myself far more drawn to Mira's life. Not to sound cold, but there was a stagnancy and inevitability to the mother's story. I wanted to see how Mira's played out. That Mira and Rachel's mother, Norma, was seriously mentally ill was not in dispute. At the start of the book she is dying and the daughters have come to see her one l This was a mixed bag for me. It was extremely well written by a talented author, but despite the fact that it is a memoir of the author's mother's mental illness, I found myself far more drawn to Mira's life. Not to sound cold, but there was a stagnancy and inevitability to the mother's story. I wanted to see how Mira's played out. That Mira and Rachel's mother, Norma, was seriously mentally ill was not in dispute. At the start of the book she is dying and the daughters have come to see her one last time after a seventeen year absence, during which the mother lived on the street. The recitation of their early lives with Norma's severe and often untreated schizophrenia was often difficult for me to read and became somewhat repetitious. Although I understood this was the crux of the book and needed to be told, it was depressing and hopeless. More intriguing were the journeys Mira took to the hearts of foreign lands to write about their culture and indigenous people, her choices and the car accident that resulted in her brain injury. I am torn between a three and four star review, because I think it deserved a good review, but the stars indicate "like" and "really like" and I hover in-betweeen. It was well worth reading this book to the end and I found a satisfying poignancy to the conclusion of a journey of simultaneous escape and discovery that came full circle to her mother's bedside. I found myself far more empathetic of Norma and so sad for the accident of birth that resulted in her mental illness. She deserved better, but so did her children.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I had never heard of a Memory Palace before and found that the title for this book fits perfectly. A Memory Palace is created by creating an Escher like space in your brain to link memories to pictures. Mira Bartok uses her mentally ill mother's belongings and journals to create a Palace and takes you through her childhood based on the objects of her mother that are found in a storage container. This memoir is probably one of the best I have ever read and I am amazed that the author keeps a sens I had never heard of a Memory Palace before and found that the title for this book fits perfectly. A Memory Palace is created by creating an Escher like space in your brain to link memories to pictures. Mira Bartok uses her mentally ill mother's belongings and journals to create a Palace and takes you through her childhood based on the objects of her mother that are found in a storage container. This memoir is probably one of the best I have ever read and I am amazed that the author keeps a sense of humor, honor and dignity while relating this tale. Bartok's mother has suffered with schizophrenia for all of her life and after the author and her sister move out and her home is sold, she spirals downward into homelessness. No matter how much Mira and her sister try to get their mother help, it never works. This becomes so heartbreaking and the grief is evident and yet, Mira tries again and again. When that fails, the girls move away, leave no forwarding address and change their names to escape the nightmare their mother has become. They do reunite when her mother is on her death bed. I really recommend this one and while it is a difficult read at times, it is worth the effort. I received this book from the publisher at no charge for my honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    In reviews this book was likened to The Glass Castle and having loved that book I was super excited to read this one. Let me tell you though that this book is no Glass Castle. In fact I think it was trying way too hard to be The Glass Castle and in doing so became a bit of a mess. Even the title is a bit too mimicy (yes I know that is not a word) for my liking. However, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I'm guessing Jeanette Walls must be feeling pretty flattered right about now. I In reviews this book was likened to The Glass Castle and having loved that book I was super excited to read this one. Let me tell you though that this book is no Glass Castle. In fact I think it was trying way too hard to be The Glass Castle and in doing so became a bit of a mess. Even the title is a bit too mimicy (yes I know that is not a word) for my liking. However, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I'm guessing Jeanette Walls must be feeling pretty flattered right about now. I feel for the author and all she had to deal with growing up. Having had my own fair share of good old fashioned mother/daughter conflict I know the whole dynamic is tough sometimes. I guess I should have been thankful because I for one would not want to have thrown psychosis, paranoia and violence into the mix. I can't even imagine what that would have looked like. At the same time if my life had been as crazy as the author's I imagine I would have been able to write a book with a bit more emotion. The author seems so detached and sometimes it feels like nothing more than a play by play of events is being offered, like an innocent bystander wrote the book inside of one of the affected parties. The book is sad. It's sad that the mother in question was unable to ever receive help for her mental illness and it's sad that her daughters had to grow up witnessing and dealing with things children should never have to deal with, but that doesn't change the fact that this book isn't very good. It's poorly written and jumps all over the place. At times I had to reread pages trying to figure out the chronological order of events. It's also kind of boring, okay no, it's a lot boring. It gets all Eat, Pray, Love while she's in Europe and I got confused about why we're in Norway and then Italy or some similar country when this is a book about your mom and she's not with you or even really part of the story anymore. There is also too much talk of art and museums which I'm sure is entertaining if you're into art and museums, but I am not. I didn't really get what they had to do with the story. Well I mean I get it, but I just don't really see why I should care. This was far from the worst book ever, but definitely just an ok read in my opinion.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patti Mcdermott

    For such a potentially moving subject, I felt oddly disconnected from the author's story. There is never really any deep thought or feeling, it's mostly Mother did this and we did that in response and a lot of guilt expressed. I also don't like when authors ask questions constantly. For instance," ...."Should I turn back, should I go home? Will she ever be okay?""What is on the other side of the golden wall?" "What do the pictures mean?". "Can a painting save a person's life?" Who is the author For such a potentially moving subject, I felt oddly disconnected from the author's story. There is never really any deep thought or feeling, it's mostly Mother did this and we did that in response and a lot of guilt expressed. I also don't like when authors ask questions constantly. For instance," ...."Should I turn back, should I go home? Will she ever be okay?""What is on the other side of the golden wall?" "What do the pictures mean?". "Can a painting save a person's life?" Who is the author talking to? Why not just say how she feels instead of putting out these weird, uninteresting questions? It's some kind of shorthand for expression that I find off putting, an easy way of describing the author's confusion without delving any deeper. I don't want to cogitate about whether a painting can save a person's life, I want to know if the author thinks it can save HER life....etc. I did like the author's inclusion of her mother's diary entries, actually reading the unusual pairings of descriptions and feelings and paranoia and the jumping from here to there of a thought disordered person was fascinating!

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    Mira Bartok’s Memory Palace is a beautifully crafted tale of life with an absent father and a mentally ill mother. As the story unfolds, you’ll see how fine the line is between gentle artistic creativity and debilitating madness. With each new vignette, Mira reveals the wonder and the horror of life in a house ruled by insanity. As the daughters get older, the mother devolves, making her way from world-class musician to paranoid homeless schizophrenic. Despite that tragedy, Mira’s spirit never f Mira Bartok’s Memory Palace is a beautifully crafted tale of life with an absent father and a mentally ill mother. As the story unfolds, you’ll see how fine the line is between gentle artistic creativity and debilitating madness. With each new vignette, Mira reveals the wonder and the horror of life in a house ruled by insanity. As the daughters get older, the mother devolves, making her way from world-class musician to paranoid homeless schizophrenic. Despite that tragedy, Mira’s spirit never fails to shine through. You’ll wish you could pick her up, like a little lost kitten, but in the end, she makes it on her own.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Hmmm. There are a lot of overwhelmingly positive reactions to this book, and I hesitate a little to be among its detractors. I'll let those other reviewers focus on the positives and the plot summary, and explain why I didn't love it: It's not well written. It jumps all over the place, not in a jumble of memory but in a disjointed way. The author uses a constant "I wonder what my mother would be doing right now. Would it be A? Or would it be B? Or would it be the violent option, C?" This exact pa Hmmm. There are a lot of overwhelmingly positive reactions to this book, and I hesitate a little to be among its detractors. I'll let those other reviewers focus on the positives and the plot summary, and explain why I didn't love it: It's not well written. It jumps all over the place, not in a jumble of memory but in a disjointed way. The author uses a constant "I wonder what my mother would be doing right now. Would it be A? Or would it be B? Or would it be the violent option, C?" This exact pattern is repeated in the text about thirty times. It started to feel like she had written the story, was short on word count, and had to go back and add something. It's dripping with guilt. By the end it feels like she just wants you to believe her, that really she did think about her mother when she abandoned her for 17 years. So what? You abandoned her, and many if not most people would have done the same thing (she had good reason.) This was written to make the author feel better about herself. That doesn't make for a good read. The author refused to check the accuracy of her memories with others, even though she explains about her own brain injury and mentions that her sister remembers some things differently. In other words, this is possibly as much a fiction as a memoir. A guilty fiction. Lastly (and this is in no way the author's fault) this is not a book to listen to, but to read. It took me a while to identify the narrator's voice inflection when she was reading the mother's letters. There are artworks mixed in with the book which are not in the audio. Two stars on Goodreads means "it's ok." It's ok. Go read a positive review to see why people liked it before you pick it up. Or, maybe, find a better memoir about dealing with mental illness and brain injury.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    Beautifully written memoir about growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia. It is in parts disturbing, painful and tender. It is no secret that mental illness is misunderstood or that people unfamiliar with it fear it. I think a lot of people fail to realize that the'crazy person' on the street is a human being with a disease that they did not chose to have. Such people are someone's child, sibling, parent, etc. On the same note, my own grandmother's son was diagnosed as schizophr Beautifully written memoir about growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia. It is in parts disturbing, painful and tender. It is no secret that mental illness is misunderstood or that people unfamiliar with it fear it. I think a lot of people fail to realize that the'crazy person' on the street is a human being with a disease that they did not chose to have. Such people are someone's child, sibling, parent, etc. On the same note, my own grandmother's son was diagnosed as schizophrenic upon returning from Vietnam and I remember being a little afraid of him as a child. I cannot imagine the roller coaster ride through hell that having a mentally ill parent must have been. A memoir is only a peek into a long journey through hell. I was touched to see the beauty Bartok managed to find. I was even more disturbed by her abusive grandfather and had to wonder would her mother's illness have been less severe if her own father wasn't so vile. The horror of it all was that Mira's mother was a single mom, her father abandoned them. The reality is, there are a lot of children living in such situations. Many people would think 'there are meds for that' but the fact is, schizophrenics generally think they are fine and are suspect of any pills and doctors. It's a double edged sword. It was achingly sad that the adults that were there to help were also a mess, her grandmother a cowering abused wife, and her grandfather a cruel abuser. Achingly sad. Yet, I felt sorry even for her grandmother. Beautifully rendered.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This is a memoir of life with a schizophrenic mother. This is not a situation one would wish for, and I as a reader was sufficiently uncomfortable with the story during the early pages that I considered bailing out and not finishing it. But when I pondered the decision it occurred to me that if I read the book perhaps I could learn a bit about schizophrenia, and maybe I would develop an appreciation for the trials endured by family members and loved ones when schizophrenia occurs. This is also a This is a memoir of life with a schizophrenic mother. This is not a situation one would wish for, and I as a reader was sufficiently uncomfortable with the story during the early pages that I considered bailing out and not finishing it. But when I pondered the decision it occurred to me that if I read the book perhaps I could learn a bit about schizophrenia, and maybe I would develop an appreciation for the trials endured by family members and loved ones when schizophrenia occurs. This is also a memoir about the author striving to reclaim lost memories after traumatic brain injury in a car accident (which followed a previous concussion caused by slipping on a sidewalk). Her struggle for memories was tinged with pain since they included a troubled childhood with an ill mother and dysfunctional extended family. After escaping their home environment via college scholarships the author and her sister found it necessary to change their names and move to addresses unknown in order to avoid their mother's demented harassment. This drastic step which led to seventeen years of separation was made necessary when they were unable to have their mother legally institutionalized. The style of writing reveals a mind of an artist which at times enters into contemplative circles of thought. The book’s title and structure are built around a metaphor based on the story of the sixth-century B.C. Greek poet Simonides, who was attending a party at a palace and stepped outside just before the building collapsed. He was able to identify the mangled bodies recovered from the ruins based upon his memory of where the guests had been standing. The author in writing this book is thus rebuilding an imaginary palace in which she can place her memoires for safe keeping. It’s a beautiful metaphor for describing the author’s struggle to reconstruct a life on the rubble of a catastrophically ruined family and her striving against the cognitive limitations caused by her brain injury. The seventeen year separation comes to an end when the author and her sister learn that their mother is terminally ill. They are present when she dies and thus are able to have a bit of closure to their estrangement. In the end the author asks the question that some readers are probably wondering, did she shirk her duty as a daughter by leaving her mother? Is it a daughter’s responsibility to forsake her own career to be her mother’s caretaker? The whole situation was made difficult by the fact that the legal system found that their mother was not sufficiently impaired to be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. The book is filled with quotations written by their mother in her journal during the years of homelessness and separation from her daughters. The writing in the journals could be judged as curiously creative if a reader didn’t know about the schizophrenia. The book ends with the question of whether their mother would have been happier being institutionalized. It’s a complicated question. Their mother had sufficient grasp on reality to miraculously survive her homelessness into her 80s, but yet she was obviously incapable of properly taking care of herself. How would her journals have read if she had been institutionalized? Would she have had a journal? Or would she have been so drugged as to not feel the need to journal?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Edit :: 05/06/13 :: see comment #'s 9 & 10. This book was a bit of a let down. I wanted more details and less of the narrative. I still do not have an understanding of how Mira and her sister were able to go on and live such successful lives. Nor do I understand the overall ambivalence about having a mother that was so mentally ill. On the other hand, this is a very loving account of a difficult relationship. Edit :: 05/06/13 :: see comment #'s 9 & 10. This book was a bit of a let down. I wanted more details and less of the narrative. I still do not have an understanding of how Mira and her sister were able to go on and live such successful lives. Nor do I understand the overall ambivalence about having a mother that was so mentally ill. On the other hand, this is a very loving account of a difficult relationship.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    This is the memoir of author and illustrator Mira Bartok. Mira and her sister were raised by a mother with paranoid schizophrenia and an absent father, by a violent alcoholic grandfather and a grandmother struggling to hold things together. When her mother’s intrusive behavior followed the sisters across state lines and became violent, both young women had to sever ties for their own safety, emotional health and professional success. Seventeen years later when they discover that their homeless m This is the memoir of author and illustrator Mira Bartok. Mira and her sister were raised by a mother with paranoid schizophrenia and an absent father, by a violent alcoholic grandfather and a grandmother struggling to hold things together. When her mother’s intrusive behavior followed the sisters across state lines and became violent, both young women had to sever ties for their own safety, emotional health and professional success. Seventeen years later when they discover that their homeless mother is dying of cancer, they return to her hospital room to reconnect. This memoir recounts an erratic childhood and explores the impact of these childhood experiences on her adult life. Even though she did not see or talk to her mother for nearly two decades, her mother continued to have an outsized influence on her life. Bartok portrays her mother with sensitivity and respect, realizing that she loved her daughters fiercely, that she was a brilliant piano prodigy, but that her mental illness was destroying her and had the potential to destroy Mira and her sister.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This book was OK. I get what Mira was trying to do, and she did do it. The rooms were well thought out and did leave many impressions and were a fine introduction to the memories she shared with us, but it seemed that we spent a lot of time wandering those rooms in a meaningless way, especially for the times when Mira had left home and country with only cursory, or none at all, returns to the original point/room. What she didn't do was transport me. The nearly constant (and therefore insufferabl This book was OK. I get what Mira was trying to do, and she did do it. The rooms were well thought out and did leave many impressions and were a fine introduction to the memories she shared with us, but it seemed that we spent a lot of time wandering those rooms in a meaningless way, especially for the times when Mira had left home and country with only cursory, or none at all, returns to the original point/room. What she didn't do was transport me. The nearly constant (and therefore insufferable) allusion to paintings, music, and stories may be beneficial in relating a story if it is a shared experience because it can be used as a vehicle to relate feelings, thoughts, impressions in an effective and wordless manner, BUT if the experiences are unshared, well, then, it just falls flat. Like it did here. Or worse, it begins to seem that there may be someone doing a form of name dropping to 'normalize' the rest of their lives. I may be projecting here.... however this book is an example of a failed attempt at that type of connection. It is as meaningless as her, or her mother's, listing of random things as a coping mechanism. The greater sin than that failure, however, is that she knew we were unfamiliar with a couple of the paintings and tried to describe them to the full emotional effect. IT NEVER WORKS! DON'T TRY IT! IT DRIVES ME MAD! Also, the few and far between attempts at a lyricaland beautiful prose falls flat, mostly because she uses beautiful, and faintly connected, phrases at the beginning of each room/chapter. The underlying story is sad. She grew up with a mentally ill mom, the schizophrenia only worsened, until she went away to school. That, however wasn't enough, she (and her older sister) made the decision to change their name and limit all contact with their mother. The 17 years that they didn't see their mother and had limited mail contact with her seemed to me to be the most tragic, because it is the story of a woman keeping someone at arms length even though they'd really like to find the real her under all the illness. The mother, meanwhile, becomes a homeless, blind, and toothless charactere, but the arrival of terminal cancer seems to bring things full circle. The two grown sisters return once again to hold a vigil, or more accurately witness, their mothers death with an attempt to connect with her now that she's physically incapacitated and her illness is less obtrusive to their relating. The mom dies. The girls wander down memory lane a bit. The End. Is it tragic? Yeah, sure. It isn't enough though. Tragic does not make a story. Insight and lyricism do. Along with a more tightly woven story. Naming it 'Memory Palace' is no excuse to warder aimlessly for the whole second half of the book. I will say that when she did mention my home town of Northampton MA as a place where she saw her (apparently) mentally ill husband, she was putting into code that she had landed in the nest of mental health services. Northampton had a state hospital and since it's closing, has been liberal enough to really work at providing community services to those mentally ill left (or 'released') in the town. It didn't just bury it's head. Another shared experience that Mira thought would help convey a deeper meaning without her needing to really work at it, but unless you know the town, it won't. Northampton may be a world of it's own, but those who've never lived there will have no idea why you mentioned it. I do love that town though!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Loring Wirbel

    Word has it that certain ill-informed haters on NPR Fresh Air web site and various book review web sites have been bashing Mira and her sister for their decision to change their names at adulthood, leaving their mother to drift in her disordered state from shelter to bus station to mental institution. Screw that. Bartok explains her history with grace and little rationalization, and the times she and her sister spend with her dying mother make up for decades of little contact. I should state fo Word has it that certain ill-informed haters on NPR Fresh Air web site and various book review web sites have been bashing Mira and her sister for their decision to change their names at adulthood, leaving their mother to drift in her disordered state from shelter to bus station to mental institution. Screw that. Bartok explains her history with grace and little rationalization, and the times she and her sister spend with her dying mother make up for decades of little contact. I should state for the record that I have little patience at being a 24/7 caregiver, particularly for a person who is too damaged in an emotional or mental sense to show much gratitude. This description would apply in spades to Mira's mother, who had a deteriorating schizo-affective condition that made her a danger to her children and others around her. If placed in the same position as Bartok, I would have cut off all communications with a parent just as ruthlessly. What made this book a five-star experience for me is the many layers on which it functions. Bartok explains paranoid disorders well, and describes with passion what growing up with a schizophrenic parent was like. She experienced physical brain trauma of her own, which made her appreciate later in life the type of daily brain dysfunctions her mother experienced. Because of her problems with short-term memory, Bartok develops informal theories of memory experiences for both behavioral patients and brain-trauma patients, theories which any neuroscientist would love to dissect. And finally, the reconciliation she and her sister have with their mother during mom's final months in life show the compassion that was there all along. The descriptions of mom's final 48 hours of life in the hospice are beautiful. Some might find the occasional interspersing of narrative with segments from the mother's journals to be disruptive. I find it fascinating to peer inside the mind of someone with such a disorder, and I also do not place a high value on linear narrative, so I actually liked those interjections. Bartok has done a favor to those challenged by physical brain trauma, those dealing with a close relative with serious behavioral disorders, and those either living in a hospice or living with someone in their last weeks of life. If some want to chide Bartok for not being Mother Teresa, well I ain't Mother Teresa either. Just because neither I nor the author of this book have infinite patience in the caregiving department, hardly means our empathic genes are broken.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Book Him Danno

    I have lived with and worked with Schizophrenia, I spent over two years managing apartments and working in group homes with the mentally ill while in college. I managed a home later with developmentally delayed individuals along with several mentally ill clients who lived on their own and only needed daily or weekly visits. And yet I still cannot imagine living with this day in and day out as a child who knows nothing else. Life with a parent who is schizophrenic has to be one of the most scary I have lived with and worked with Schizophrenia, I spent over two years managing apartments and working in group homes with the mentally ill while in college. I managed a home later with developmentally delayed individuals along with several mentally ill clients who lived on their own and only needed daily or weekly visits. And yet I still cannot imagine living with this day in and day out as a child who knows nothing else. Life with a parent who is schizophrenic has to be one of the most scary things to happen to a child. You learn how the world works by example and if your only example sees things, hears things and reacts to things that aren’t really there how can a child deal with that? This book is filled with heartache and yet triumph that these two women were able to rise above their upbringing and become productive adults after all they went through with their mother. A crazy mother and no stability in everyday life causes problems and the idea that they cut of contact with their mother for over 17 years is OK by me. What else could they have done in this situation? In my opinion; Until you live their lives you have no place to judge their actions. The reason I gave the book 3 ½ stars was that I felt some of the story was confusing and long winded in parts and yet interesting in others but to short and condensed to really get a feeling for her struggle. My heart goes out to Mira and the struggle it was to be with her mother and without her. Guilt over lost time with her plays hugely in this book, but what was she to do? There is only so much a person can handle and I think she paid her dues. She focused the book on her life and the struggles, not on blaming her mother or God for that matter. I cannot figure out who I would suggest this book for, maybe everyone, but it was an interesting story that broke my heart at times and I hope the best for the author and her family.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Doreen

    I rarely have given a book 5 stars but I am doing so with this one for the book and for the experience of reading it. This past year I have been paying more attention to the quality of the writing--things like structure, use of language story development etc. Some of my reviews have referred to my frustrations with poor editing, bad writing and perhaps rushing a book into publication before it is ready. The Memory Palace reads like a work that has given attention to detail and form. The author i I rarely have given a book 5 stars but I am doing so with this one for the book and for the experience of reading it. This past year I have been paying more attention to the quality of the writing--things like structure, use of language story development etc. Some of my reviews have referred to my frustrations with poor editing, bad writing and perhaps rushing a book into publication before it is ready. The Memory Palace reads like a work that has given attention to detail and form. The author is a good writer. Apart from the actual story I learned some things about art and the life of the Sami people of Northern Norway among other things. Mira Bartok's mother was schizophrenic and this is the story of growning up with a mother who was both brilliant and mentally ill. The latter half is Mira's story as she must learn how to maneuvre her world after she suffers a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. The stories come together. I particularly liked the use of Norma's writings at the beginning of each chapter as they give us some knowledge and connection to her. She was a very strong character and I felt she was always treated with respect by the author. This is frequently missing for me in other memoirs I have read and disliked.(Hello Glass Castle!!!). I wept through the first few pages and again at the end and there are parts that have stayed with me to the point that I find myself reluctant to pick up that next book. I wish I could write a review that does this book justice.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stacie Vaughan

    I know this book has received raved reviews, but it wasn’t one of my favourites. I had high hopes when I started reading it, but I failed to really get into it and found it at times a bit tedious to read. It told the story of Mira Bartok’s life and how she grew up with a mentally ill mom and her journey into adulthood and how she had to literally hide from her own mom. It was very sad actually to see how the system failed her mom, who was a schizophrenic. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t mor I know this book has received raved reviews, but it wasn’t one of my favourites. I had high hopes when I started reading it, but I failed to really get into it and found it at times a bit tedious to read. It told the story of Mira Bartok’s life and how she grew up with a mentally ill mom and her journey into adulthood and how she had to literally hide from her own mom. It was very sad actually to see how the system failed her mom, who was a schizophrenic. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t more support for her and for Mira and her sister. What they had to deal with was heartbreaking and sad. Despite these poignant moments in the book, I felt like it was incredibly wordy and way too detailed for me. The author goes into minute detail about all her memories and I just found it to be a little too much for me. I found my mind wandering and having to read the page over a few times. There’s pages and pages of her describing art work, folk tales and dreams that didn’t engage me at all. Maybe her writing style just wasn’t for me. I forced myself to continue reading, but had I not had to do this review, I probably would have just gave up on the book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    This was really a disappointment for me. I absolutely love memoirs and I have been reading them like crazy. I desperately wanted to like this book. Mira has obviously lived a very interesting life, and has overcome so much - as the daughter of a woman with paranoid schizophrenia, and as someone who survived a traumatic brain injury herself. However, her interpretation of everything that happened to her seemed somehow empty or lacking to me. She seems to write about the most potentially heart wrenc This was really a disappointment for me. I absolutely love memoirs and I have been reading them like crazy. I desperately wanted to like this book. Mira has obviously lived a very interesting life, and has overcome so much - as the daughter of a woman with paranoid schizophrenia, and as someone who survived a traumatic brain injury herself. However, her interpretation of everything that happened to her seemed somehow empty or lacking to me. She seems to write about the most potentially heart wrenching life experiences but does not aim straight for the emotional core, but always seems to be dancing around it in a disorganized and lackadaisical manner. As Cheryl Strayed said about the art of memoir writing: "You get no points for the living, I tell my students. It isn’t enough to have had an interesting or hilarious or tragic life. Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means." Mira Bartok seems to have fallen short in this work, which is filled with repetitive storytelling rather than meaning making.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Stevens Shank

    I read this book as a condemnation of our public health system's failure to deal compassionately and wisely with those who suffer the most extreme types of mental illness. Intelligence and talent do not protect families from the horrors of living with someone who is a victim of his or her psychoses. It is a terrible, cruel, life-destroying family situation. No one in Bartok's family went unscathed. Fear, guilt, self-doubt, anger, and despair: they run the gamut of negative feelings as a result I read this book as a condemnation of our public health system's failure to deal compassionately and wisely with those who suffer the most extreme types of mental illness. Intelligence and talent do not protect families from the horrors of living with someone who is a victim of his or her psychoses. It is a terrible, cruel, life-destroying family situation. No one in Bartok's family went unscathed. Fear, guilt, self-doubt, anger, and despair: they run the gamut of negative feelings as a result of Norma's (Mira's mother's) schizophrenia and the social consequences which led to a life of tragic isolation. The isolation also extended to the lives of Norma's two daughters, who hid from her until she was dying of cancer. This is not a pretty story, but it is a compelling story. It deserves an A for content: but I gave it a B- for composition. I was exhausted midway through the book. Enough, already! Too much! I was a little put out with the daughters who were suddenly overcome with grief at the death of their mother after having been willingly absent for 17 years... But then I have not walked in their shoes.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    Mira's memoir of her mother's mental illness and of how she and her sister endured their battered childhood is a fascinating, compelling read. Mira's tangled, painful youth does not still her ability to feel compassion for her brilliant, gifted and deeply troubled mother. Both women, and sister Rachel as well, are talented, vital personalities brought to vibrant life in this heart-felt memoir. As their history unfolded, revealing the extraordinary and painful complexities and needs of Norma Herr Mira's memoir of her mother's mental illness and of how she and her sister endured their battered childhood is a fascinating, compelling read. Mira's tangled, painful youth does not still her ability to feel compassion for her brilliant, gifted and deeply troubled mother. Both women, and sister Rachel as well, are talented, vital personalities brought to vibrant life in this heart-felt memoir. As their history unfolded, revealing the extraordinary and painful complexities and needs of Norma Herr's schizophrenia, and her daughters' necessary fights for survival, I was ultimately brought close to tears and it was a good and rich experience.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    This was an extremely tough book to read - any time you read about a family that is affected by schizophrenia, you know that the book is going to be a tough read. What Norma went through as a teen and then as an adult, with her children Mira and Natalia, living with her abusive father and compliant mother is enough of a story to infuriate and frustrate you. Add in the fact that the girl's father left them when they were young [and they never saw him again] and that they just never knew what the This was an extremely tough book to read - any time you read about a family that is affected by schizophrenia, you know that the book is going to be a tough read. What Norma went through as a teen and then as an adult, with her children Mira and Natalia, living with her abusive father and compliant mother is enough of a story to infuriate and frustrate you. Add in the fact that the girl's father left them when they were young [and they never saw him again] and that they just never knew what the day would bring between the voices in their mother's head or the anger and unexpected violence that came from their grandfather, it is truly a wonder that Mira and Natalia even managed to grow up, much less as normal as they did [though they both have had their struggles and their own issues to deal with]. This book is about the author's [and peripherally, her sister's] life - both as a child growing up in Cleveland and as an adult, where she [and her sister] chose to change their names and hide their whereabouts from their frequently homeless mother for close to 17 years. And the guilt that she had and how she still wrote to her mother, always using a PO box so she could not be found, but yet could not find the wherewithal to move back home to try and take care of her seriously ill mother [who did not want her help and often hid from her daughters to avoid them getting her the help she needed]. It is a very sad story and one that happens more often than we even know or think about. And then the end of the book is just so sad, but that is the way it often happens with mental illness; there just is rarely a happy ending. A worthwhile read, but be prepared for some serious anger [over how Norma was treated by her parents and the Dr.'s and the people around her, even her children at times, though you can understand why they distance themselves from Norma] and serious frustration at how hideously people who have mental illness are treated [both in the past and currently - it is shameful!!!] and just how sad it almost always turns out; keep the Kleenex close by. And at the end, they mention this piece of music " Fauré Requiem - Requiem: In Paradisum". I listened to it and WOW. That is a powerful piece of music. I recommend the version by The Sixteen / Academy of St Martin in the Fields; it is beautiful and haunting and perfectly portrays everything you have just read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan (aka Just My Op)

    Norma Herr is dying and her two daughters, having hidden from her for years, come to her bedside to say goodbye. This memoir recounts how this dysfunctional family got to this point. A childhood with an alcoholic father who disappears and a violent, schizophrenic mother, calls for remarkable survival skills. Norma becomes homeless and her now-adult daughters both change their names so that she cannot find them. Natalie (formerly Rachel) disconnects more than Mira (formerly Myra), but Myra communi Norma Herr is dying and her two daughters, having hidden from her for years, come to her bedside to say goodbye. This memoir recounts how this dysfunctional family got to this point. A childhood with an alcoholic father who disappears and a violent, schizophrenic mother, calls for remarkable survival skills. Norma becomes homeless and her now-adult daughters both change their names so that she cannot find them. Natalie (formerly Rachel) disconnects more than Mira (formerly Myra), but Myra communicates using anonymous post office boxes so that her mother never knows where she lives. So sad. Most of us, thankfully, have a hard time even imagining having a homeless mother and doing nothing other than sending the occasional gift of warm clothing to her. But most of us can't imagine living with a mother who tries to kill us. The family, for all its dysfunction, is very artistic, and that comes through in the story and in the author's illustrations. Mira suffers two separate accidents that leave her with a debilitating brain injury, with symptoms that she likens to her mother's problems with sensory overload, that perhaps help her understand more what her mother feels. What I failed to understand is how Mira, knowing of her mother's illness and avoiding all contact with her, can allow herself to get into such an obviously dysfunctional relationship of her own choosing. It seems like there are so many memoirs about really messed up families, but I find them fascinating. Maybe because I am fortunate to have a boringly normal childhood. While some of the writing in this memoir didn't appeal to me, much was lyrical and beautiful. My favorite parts were journal/diary entries that Norma wrote, later found by Mira. Despite her mental illness, Norma was very intelligent and her writing almost poetic, even when deeply paranoid. As well as being a family history, this story is about the horrible lack of resources for the mentally ill, about how an elderly woman with Alzheimer's can be sent home from a hospital emergency room in a taxi only to be found by a neighbor, wandering and bleeding in the snow. How a delusional woman can be given drugs and sent home with no regard to whether she has actually has a home, about how the system failed again and again. The story is an eye-opener and well worth reading. I was given an advance reader's copy of this book by the publisher, for which I am grateful.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    This was a challenging book for me. I liked the idea of a memory palace and believe I had read a review that compared this to Jeannette Wall's "The Glass Castle". I was expecting something similar with this book. It was an interesting read but I felt detached from Mira (which may have been the point) and her relationship with her mother. This may have been Mira's coping mechanism but so much of the book centered on the act of running away from her mother and her mother's disjointed letters, inter This was a challenging book for me. I liked the idea of a memory palace and believe I had read a review that compared this to Jeannette Wall's "The Glass Castle". I was expecting something similar with this book. It was an interesting read but I felt detached from Mira (which may have been the point) and her relationship with her mother. This may have been Mira's coping mechanism but so much of the book centered on the act of running away from her mother and her mother's disjointed letters, interspersed with art references. The few chapters that struck me most strongly were those where Mira talks about her time in northern Sweden and her time in Chicago. Her story actually was more interesting than her mother, who, by the end, I was simply annoyed by rather than feeling compassion towards and outrage at the mental health care given in the US. The sense of detachment and a sort of hodge-podge of art and memories from the past compelled me to finish the book for some sort of resolution but left me feeling like I was missing out on the emotional development of Mira.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I had a grand time reading this book with Betsy, one of the world's most thoughtful and insightful buddy readers. She picked it, and she was right on the money. I do love this type of thing. I love a good memoir written by a woman. Throw in an unorthodox childhood with a (for better or worse) non-traditional mama and I'm in my glory. One of my favorite books in the whole world is The Glass Castle. I am forever searching for another Glass Castle. This comes pretty close. I don't completely unders I had a grand time reading this book with Betsy, one of the world's most thoughtful and insightful buddy readers. She picked it, and she was right on the money. I do love this type of thing. I love a good memoir written by a woman. Throw in an unorthodox childhood with a (for better or worse) non-traditional mama and I'm in my glory. One of my favorite books in the whole world is The Glass Castle. I am forever searching for another Glass Castle. This comes pretty close. I don't completely understand Mira's actions towards her mother, but I don't condemn them or judge them. I can't imagine the position she and her sister were in and the decisions that had to be made. There simply were no good decisions. Mira doesn't sugar-coat anything. She neither defends nor condemns her actions. She simply tells us her most honest truth possible. Because of her own brain injury, she struggles with memory. But I did feel that the heart of her truth was captured within these pages. That's plenty fine for me. There is so much insight into the mind of her mother, a very serious schizophrenic, in Mira's memoir. At the very end of her mother's life, Mira finds journals that her mother kept in a storage facility. She shares these writings while flawlessly weaving them into her story. These journals tell us so much about the way her mother thinks, feels, and deals with life. My favorite part of the book was Mira's time in the Arctic with her husband. I loved the descriptions of her surroundings. So much happens here to give us more insight into Mira's tendencies in her own life. I found this memoir to be really beautiful. It felt honest. And thanks to Betsy, I was really thinking in depth and getting the most out of my reading. A great book and a great experience. Let's do it again sometime soon, Bets! Five stars!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nada

    The Memory Palace is a memoir which tells of Mira Bartok's life growing up and living with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia . The book begins at the end as Mira rediscovers her mother who is nearing the end of her life. It then proceeds to describe the process of their life in snapshots as rooms in Mira's "memory palace." The memory palace is a tool that associates our memories with a concrete place and object. Your palace has rooms, and each room has a significant object which triggers m The Memory Palace is a memoir which tells of Mira Bartok's life growing up and living with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia . The book begins at the end as Mira rediscovers her mother who is nearing the end of her life. It then proceeds to describe the process of their life in snapshots as rooms in Mira's "memory palace." The memory palace is a tool that associates our memories with a concrete place and object. Your palace has rooms, and each room has a significant object which triggers memories and emotions. Mira uses this tool as she struggles to rediscover her mother and also her own memories as she recovers from a head injury. This book is a difficult read because of the strong emotions it elicits. The book makes you cringe at the extremely difficult situation Mira and her sister live with. Yet the book also talks about her overriding love for her mother, her lifelong desire to be able to help her mother, and the heartbreaking decisions she made to survive the situation. Despite the strong emotions in the book or really maybe because of them, it is a also hard book to put down. I wanted to protect Mira and her sister. I wanted to help their mother. I wanted to question the people around them to see what more could have been done. I imagined what I would have done. I wasn't ready to be done when the book ended because I want to know what happened after. This is a story told from the heart and meant to be read from the heart. First posted on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2011/09/memory-palace.html

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    This is the type of memoir you would expect from an artist: artistic structure with some past and present tense intertwined; pictures and imagery. It's a memoir about how to deal with a mother who has schizophrenia. Mira and her sister had to change their names, hide their addresses in order to escape their mother. In some ways, the memoir is also about a daughter who comes to the scary realization that she is like her mother in many ways. She too feels things that aren't there because she has h This is the type of memoir you would expect from an artist: artistic structure with some past and present tense intertwined; pictures and imagery. It's a memoir about how to deal with a mother who has schizophrenia. Mira and her sister had to change their names, hide their addresses in order to escape their mother. In some ways, the memoir is also about a daughter who comes to the scary realization that she is like her mother in many ways. She too feels things that aren't there because she has had a brain injury, she is also an artist (after being taken to numerous museums by her child prodigy mother), and because of an accident, she has lost parts of her memory, hence the memory palace: "to everything they wanted to recall, they were to affix an image; to every image, a position inside a room in their mind." Lots to do with memory here: schizophrenia, alzheimer's, and brain trauma. The story tore at my heart, causing me to pay close attention to the themes. Why is it that people have to struggle this much just to get help for a parent who is mentally ill? Surely it should be more simple than this! I liked the medical lessons here which reminded me a bit of Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking" where she educates and informs. For example: "How we measure the severity of head trauma has a lot to do with a rather flawed system called the Glasglow Coma Scale."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Aban (Aby)

    The Memory Palace is the memoir of a woman (an artist and writer) who, along with her sister, was raised by a loving but schizophrenic mother. The sisters were forced to remove themselves from their mother in order to escape the emotional and physical harm she could have inflicted on them and also to pursue their artistic and literary careers. The author, although she was physically absent from her mother, was always emotionally and mentally connected with her and, as readers, we experience her The Memory Palace is the memoir of a woman (an artist and writer) who, along with her sister, was raised by a loving but schizophrenic mother. The sisters were forced to remove themselves from their mother in order to escape the emotional and physical harm she could have inflicted on them and also to pursue their artistic and literary careers. The author, although she was physically absent from her mother, was always emotionally and mentally connected with her and, as readers, we experience her heartache and turmoil in wanting to do the right thing for her mother as well as for herself. The book explores the relationship of mother and daughter and the strong bonds that connect them. It's beautifully written and the book is enhanced by the sketches done by Mira Bartok. I was intrigued by the concept of the 'memory palace' that the author created in order to recall events and memories from her past. It reminded me of Salman Rushdie's 'The Enchantress of Florence' where a slave is conditioned to store past history by using a similar device. This is an emotionally gripping and lovely book; many thanks to Doreen for recommending it.

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