January 26, 2011

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

Title: The Memory Palace
Author: Mira Bartok
Publisher: Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Published: January 2011
ISBN 978-1-4391-8331-1 hard cover
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 305
Source: review copy furnished by publisher


Beautiful piano protege, Norma Herr, had been the most vibrant personality in the room before she was struck with schizophrenia at the age of nineteen. She did her best to raise her two daughters whom she loved dearly, but as her mental state deteriorated she spoke less about Chopin & more about Nazis & her constant fear that her daughters would be kidnapped, raped or murdered.

When the girls left for college the harassment escalated. Norma called them obsessively, appeared at their apartments or jobs, and threatened to kill herself if they did not return. After a traumatic encounter, Mira and her sister were forced to change their names and sever all contact with Norma in order to stay safe.

While Mira pursued her artistic career - 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.

After a debilitating car accident, Mira's life changed forever. Suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI), she had to relearn how to paint, read, & interact with the outside world and her person. In an effort to grasp her lost self, she reached out to the homeless shelter where she believed Norma lived - and discovered she was dying.

Mira and her sister traveled to Cleveland and shared an extraordinary reconciliation with their mother, they had not thought possible. At the  hospital, Mira discovered a set of keys that opened a storage unit Norma had been keeping for 17 years! Filled with family photos, childhood toys and ephemera from Norma's life, the storage unit brought back memories that Mira thought were lost to her forever.

My Review:

Author Kay Redfield Jamison once described a floridly manic state as "dancing on the rings of Saturn". In The Memory Palace, Mira Birtok's stunningly fluid and chillingly authentic memoir we are taken on a journey that illustrates the razor-fine edge between brilliance and madness living with a paranoid schizophrenic mother with such cruelly vivid descriptions and aching vulnerability that we are there.

I have nothing but high praise for this scintillating book - a Valentine to the human spirit and triumph of love and creative expression over the ravages of madness. It is not an easy read, but a privileged and intimate one. Birtok's drawings illustrate each room within the multi-chambered palace, as we journey lucidly through madness, her insatiable intellect, emotional paralysis, and subsequent courageous reconciliation with the shards of her past and shattered sense of self.

A must read! Five out of five stars, not to be missed!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of The Memory Palace free of charge from Simon & Schuster, Inc. as part of their Blogging for Books review program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book: rather the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This Disclosure complies with the 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, Guides Concerning the use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like a great book. I am going to have to look for this one. Thanks for sharing.