Literary Quote of the Month

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Monday, February 7, 2011

Memoir Monday... The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

My first impression of The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok was "here we go again". Another memoir about living with a schizophrenic mother, etc., etc. But then the reviews started coming in fast and furious about this book. Hmmm, maybe I need take another closer look at this one... Here's what Publisher's Weekly wrote about The Memory Palace:
"This moving, compassionately candid memoir by artist and children's book author Bartok describes a life dominated by her gifted but schizophrenic mother. Bartók and her sister, Rachel, both of whom grew up in Cleveland, are abandoned by their novelist father and go to live with their mother at their maternal grandparents home. By 1990, a confrontation in which her mother cuts her with broken glass leads Bartók (née Myra Herr) to change her identity and flee the woman she calls the cry of madness in the dark. Eventually, the estrangement leaves her mother homeless, wandering with her belongings in a knapsack, writing letters to her daughter's post office box. Reunited 17 years later, Bartók is suffering memory loss from an accident; her mother is 80 years old and dying from stomach cancer. Only through memories do they each find solace for their collective journey. Using a mnemonic technique from the Renaissance—a memory palace—Bartók imagines, chapter by chapter, a mansion whose rooms secure the treasured moments of her reconstructed past. With a key found stashed in her mother's knapsack, she unlocks a rental storage room filled with paintings, diaries, and photos. Bartók turns these strangely parallel narratives and overlapping wonders into a haunting, almost patchwork, narrative that lyrically chronicles a complex mother-daughter relationship.
This sounds fascinating to me. Like a treasure chest of memories, Bartok constructs her memoir around these objects. And glancing through excerpts of Mira Bartok's book, I found some beautiful artwork along with her compelling prose. So, The Memory Palace is now on my wish list! Have you read this one yet?! Share your thoughts if you have, I'd love to hear what you thought of this!


Brenda Youngerman said...

Hi Suzanne,
I actually have this book and am about half way through it. I am on book blogs and am in the group free blog tours so got it from the publisher for free to write a review. It is definitely different than any other memoir that I have ever read. There are pictures at the beginning of every chapter that the author herself drew and the book is written in first person so it is a very personal story.
It is definitely worth your time to read!

David W. Berner said...


I have not read The Memory Place, but have it on my list.

Although, I wanted to mention something in this blog - as an author and a man. Memoir seems to be locked into a very "female" state of mind. Don't get me wrong, I feel loved "Chosen by a Horse" and "A Three Dog Life" - which might be considered women's memoir stories - BUT, there are PLENTY of very good male-oriented (if that's what you want to to call it, for lack of a better description) memoirs.

I am currently reading the book - The Tender Bar. Wonderful memoir about a Long Island boy who believes his neighborhood bar, including the characters in and around it, was his surrogate father. It's a funny, touching, insightful memoir. Great for a male read - but also for a female.

I bring this up now, because I see so many memoirs listed here and at other sites that appear to be very much in the "female" frame of mind. I would love to see the beauty of a good memoir cross the gender lines.

David W. Berner
Author, Accidental Lessons

David W. Berner said...

Sorry for the typo - The Memory PALACE. Whoops...
Best to you!

Suzanne said...

Hi Brenda,
Yes, Book Blogs in where I saw the publisher offering up copies for review and decided not to request one. How wrong I was! After reading some great reviews, it seems my first impressions were not really fair. So now, this is on my wish list!

Thanks for sharing how much you are enjoying it! I also think that I will buy a paper copy instead of a digital copy, because the drawings didn't look too nice on the digital excerpt I read.

Suzanne said...

Hi David,
Thanks for your input on the genre memoir. I agree that there are plenty of great memoirs written by men. I really enjoyed Haruki Murakami's memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or Cold by Bill Streever and I actually have a copy of The Tender Bar in my TBR pile! I think though that "female" memoirs dominate the shelves, although I gravitate towards memoirs that have some element that interests me no matter who (male or female) wrote it.

Please share some more recommendations! I love to hear about great books, and I think you'll be seeing a few great "man memoirs" coming up in the next few Memoir Mondays!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I'm reading this one now, and can only say WOW....imagine growing up with such a mom.

Suzanne said...

Hi Diane!
Now I'm really jealous! BUT, my library just emailed me to say the book just came back in and I can pick it up tomorrow! I'll be able to chat about it soon!

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