Book Review | The Memory Palace

Title: The Memory Palace

Author: Mira Bartok

About the Book:

People have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you’ve been through,” Mira Bartok 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 protege 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.

The Memory Palace is a breathtaking literary memoir about the complex meaning of love, truth, and the capacity for forgiveness among family. Through stunning prose and original art created by the author in tandem with the text, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.

My Review:

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.

*I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.*

Stacie Vaughan

Stacie is the mom of two girls and lives in Ontario, Canada. She enjoys cooking/baking, photography, reading, DIY and is fueled by lots of coffee!

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