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Monday, March 4, 2013

"This Woman Is My Mother"

If you must have politics, please scroll down)

The words in the title of this post appear with frequency in Mira Bartók's memoir The Memory Palace, a first-person narrative about growing up with a schizophrenic mother.

Occasionally, the author varies the sentence by writing "This creature is my mother."

A sad book?

Not really — even though the author's mother, formerly a piano prodigy, deteriorates mentally over the years until she lives the last seventeen years of her life as a homeless person.

In some ways, the book is an indictment of our mental health system.  That indictment, however, is not the main theme of this excellent memoir.

Never underestimate the power of family love.

In the end, Ms. Bartók discovers that mother-daughter love can transcend some of the worst imaginable trials of life.  After nearly two decades of estrangement, forgiveness and reconciliation arrive as the two daughters rescue their mother and sit next to their mother's bedside in her final days as she loses her battle with cancer.

I highly recommend this book!

To learn more about the book and the author, read THIS BOOK REVIEW in the New York Times, and visit the web site The Memory Palace.

Book trailer:

YouTube blurb:
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.


  1. I just requested the audio book from the library. I will listen during my commute. Thanks!

  2. Love is a mystery that can, at times, overcome mental illnesses or even addictions.

  3. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

    I listened to the audio version. It's outstanding!

  4. Overcoming adversity is part of life. We can chose to be a better and stronger person for that which we must endure, or we can capitulate to it. I look forward to the book.

  5. I'm just going to let you pick all my books from now on. The library had The Good Father secured for me in one day. I picked it up and finished reading it in one day. Really enjoyed it.

    The Good Father led me, via Amazon, to Defending Jacob, by William Landay, which is proving to be fairly good.

    Have you read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver?

  6. And...................The Memory Palace is sitting on the shelf at my local library just waiting for me to pick it up. How cool is that?

    I really, really love our library. One time I wanted an obscure book on President Wilson. It took them two days to find it at some tiny little college in the Midwest. They had it sent to our library in Idaho.

  7. Adrienne,
    Interesting that you mentioned We Need to Talk About Kevin! I recently read that one too -- for the second time!

    I also read Defending Jacob -- some time ago. As you mentioned, it's not excellent. That said, I did find it worthwhile.

    I must say that I frequently use the public library. Many times, I start reading a book which has gotten excellent reviews only to toss the book aside after the first 50-100 pages. My reading time is limited, so I don't want to waste that time.

    Amazon is a good source for finding "related" books. I use Amazon for that, and I also use book reviews that I encounter on the web.

  8. Adrienne,
    Let me know what you think of The Memory Palace.

  9. Thank you for this, AOW. Our family was forever changed when my mother became schizophrenic, I was 15 months old when it happened. I've done most of my writing about this disaster that befell our family. I look forward to reading this book. Thank you again.

  10. Shaw,
    What happened to your family must have been difficult in the extreme.

    My father was mildly bipolar; impact was minimal.

    However, Grandpa was severely bipolar. All of his children were emotionally scarred to some extent.

    Schizophrenia is much worse that bipolar disorder.

    I hope that reading The Memory Palace is of relevance to you -- and helps you.

  11. Thanks AOW, I'll read this. So many families with so many challenges.

  12. How I envy all of you your ability to read current books! Trouble with my eyesight prohibits that in my case.

    Interesting, however, that Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), whom I quote and to whom I refer so often, among her letters describes a virtually identical situation she experienced attending her mother's final illness or series of illnesses.

    She said affection between her mother and herself had always been sparse, "but it came" when her mother needed her most, and at a time when caring for her was a very difficult chore.

    I had a similar experience with my father. When I was very young he and I were not close. Perhaps because he had to be away so much in business, but I remember being a little bit afraid of him in my earliest years. He had a severe paralytic stroke when I was twelve. A terrible blow, and one I shall always wish could have been avoided, but it gave me the chance to see my father as vulnerable.

    It didn't happen immediately, but he and I gradually became closer and closer. Eventually he went blind, and I would read to him by the hour -- whole books in sessions that lasted for days in end.

    This was something I, apparently, could do well. He expressed great pride in my ability to "read so well," as he put it. Before that, I always felt I could never measure up to his hopes and dreams and expectations, which often kept me feeling at a loss.

    At any rate, we wound up being very close, indeed. And I'm glad to say most of the things he'd tried so hard to drum into my resistant little ear in early childhood have remained with me and stood me in good stead ever since.

    God works in mysterious ways, indeed!

  13. FT,
    The big library systems here offer audiobooks. Have you tried audiobooks? Not the same as reading the printed word, of course.

  14. FT,
    As a society, we have done ourselves a disservice by farming out caregiving of loved ones to "skilled nursing facilities" and the like.

    I have read so many accounts of how parent and child became closer over the period of caregiving.

    Now, it is not always possible to caregive at home. But I believe that it is more possible than most people care to admit.

    We do our elders and ourselves a disservice by not being family members in practice.


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