The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira BartokThe Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok

The Memory Palace: A Memoir

byMira Bartok

Paperback | August 9, 2011

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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’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.
Mira Bartok is a Chicago-born artist and the author of twenty-eight books for children. Mira's writing has appeared in several anthologies and has been noted in The Best American Essays series. Bartok lives in Western Massachusetts.
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Title:The Memory Palace: A MemoirFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8.44 × 5.5 × 0.8 inPublished:August 9, 2011Publisher:Free PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1439183325

ISBN - 13:9781439183328

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Customer Reviews of The Memory Palace: A Memoir


Rated 2 out of 5 by from Didn't finish it I have picked up this book and started over a couple times now and have yet to finish it. Confusing read and slow paced. Not sure I will ever finish it.
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Read I was often confused while reading this book, but the look into the life of a manic schizophrenic was insightful and I feel as though I learned a lot. Our book club loved this one!
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Emotional An emotional account of living with a mentally ill parent.
Date published: 2017-02-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disapointef Very confusing read felt like adolescent wrote book. Could not bring myself to finish the book. Wish i could get my money back
Date published: 2015-05-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from But, wait! What really happened? Found the memoir to be scattered and important details were left out and the events very sketchy and randomly related. I was hoping for something similiar to Glass Castle and was therefore disappointed.
Date published: 2013-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I heard the author speak on NPR; bought the book; then, read the review on Chapters & said, "Uut-oh, did I make a mistake?" I did not. I loved the book. Some background on me: my father died by suicide when I was 5; my son (24) died the same way 3 yrs ago. In my journey of healing, I have come to deal with the reality of mental illness in my family, and extrapolating, in the world at large. I am seeking out stories of people dealing with, living with mental illness and surviving. Mira's story is one of these stories, and she tells the story well. She has survived; she has a life well-lived. She honestly contemplates, "Have I done the right thing?", when she looks that the choices she has made, in her relationship with her mother as an adult. It is a memoir; it is a real story of a real life. I really enjoyed reading about the situations Mira and her family lived through in her growing up years, and how she moved on to lead a successful adult life. I appreciate her honesty; I appreciate how she shared what goes on behind closed doors; I appreciate the story of survival. It made me look at people, in my world, who are 'surviving', with more compassion. No one is promised a perfect life; Mira shows us that one can survive & and excel, even in bad & unwanted circumstances. I really liked how the author shared quotes from her mother's diaries, along with quotes from other author's works in introducing the chapters. Her mother's diary gave me insight as to what goes on in the mind of the person who suffers from schizophrenia. Mental illness is real. Mental illness affects many people and families in our society. Mira has done much to bring mental illness out of the closet; she has given schizophrenia a face; with this book, she has helped to start the conversation; she has given me another reason to be compassionate to those people I see who make their lives on the street. Thank you, Mira ..... an excellent read!
Date published: 2012-06-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from It was okay This book took me a very long time to read, and the only reason I finished it is because I hate buying a book and then not reading it. The book was to "all over the place" and detailed with useless information. There were parts of the story that I found very sad but for the most part it was an average book.
Date published: 2012-04-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Couldn't Connect Rarely is there a book that I can't finish but in this case I had no choice. I had to write a book report on it for a class I was taking. Here is an excerpt from the report I wrote: However, I did feel that as the reader you were kept on the outside. Mira tells us many stories of her life but I felt that they were told in isolation of the others thus The Memory Palace becomes a book of her challenges not of her life and those challenges as part of it. We are not privy to Mira’s day to day life, her friends, and her school days and only get a very cursory look into her relationships. Throughout the book, Mira mentions that children of people living with schizophrenia are good at keeping secrets. After having read the book I wonder if this practice of keeping secrets didn’t play a role in the lack of personal expression within The Memory Palace.
Date published: 2012-03-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Could not finish it Maybe I don't qualify for writing a review, but it is rare I cannot finish a book. I never connected with the people in this book and the writer did not give me a reason to care. Slow moving story and very depressing.
Date published: 2012-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from interesting read I never really knew too much about schizophrenia. I will look at people who live on the street with a much more compassionate eye. To learn and respect how others in this world live is what life is all about. Not a happy read but definitely one that I will remember. I would recommend this book if you truly want to know what life is like for others when the grass is definitely" not greener on the other side".
Date published: 2012-01-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Couldn't get into it This book is a beautifully written and sad story about a women reflecting on the hardships of growing up with a mentally ill mother. Although on the one hand I thought this was a beautiful book and enjoyed the connection between art and the author's experiences, it just didn't hold my attention. I actually didn't finish the book...and I always finish books. I just didn't feel like there was a driving force that willed me to 'want to know what happens next'.
Date published: 2012-01-18

Read from the Book

HomelessA homeless woman, let’s call her my mother for now, or yours, sits on a window ledge in late afternoon in a working-class neighborhood in Cleveland, or it could be Baltimore or Detroit. She is five stories up, and below the ambulance is waiting, red lights flashing in the rain. The woman thinks they’re the red eyes of a leopard from her dream last night. The voices below tell her not to jump, but the ones in her head are winning. In her story there are leopards on every corner, men with wild teeth and cat bodies, tails as long as rivers. If she opens her arms into wings she must cross a bridge of fire, battle four horses and riders. I am a swan, a spindle, a falcon, a bear. The men below call up to save her, cast their nets to lure her down, but she knows she cannot reach the garden without the distant journey. She opens her arms to enter the land of birds and fire. I will become wind, bone, blood, and memory. And the red eyes below are amazed to see just how perilously she balances on the ledge—like a leaf or a delicate lock of hair.Every passion borders on chaos, that of the collectoron the chaos of memory.© 2011 Mira Bartók

From Our Editors

INDIGO RECOMMENDS: Remember the first time you read The Glass Castle? The family was colourful and unusual, the spirit of the story magical and forgiving and the author’s voice so convincing you couldn’t wait to share your discovery with a friend. Books that have this impact appear infrequently. With the publication of her family history in Memory Palace, Mira Bartók makes a welcome addition to such unforgettable life stories. This is a family memoir about the indelible bonds between a mother suffering from mental illness and the daughters that never stop caring for her. It is a remarkable and heartbreaking study of artistic expression, inheritance, responsibility and how we create and rely upon memories. And, it is beautifully written.

Editorial Reviews

The National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Best Autobiography of 2011