The Memory Palace
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The Memory Palace

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3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  4,878 ratings  ·  856 reviews
When piano prodigy Norma Herr was healthy, she was the most vibrant personality in the room. But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of. After Norma attacked her, Mira Bartók and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves s...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 11th 2011 by Free Press
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Cynthia
This memoir was incredible. I don't need to debate how to rate it.

Bartok hit it out of the ballpark. She and her mom and sister pass through, aspire to, or survive, family life, abusive men, homelessness, classrooms, shelters, museums, concert halls, loving husbands, freedom, religion, myths, reality, etc. not to mention their divergent perceptions of the same. Mostly what the book is about is the three of them trying to stay attached without being destroyed by the mother’s schizophrenia. When...more
Lois
I read 130 Pages before deciding I'd had enough. The book just seemed to be a little too scattered for me, and not sure who it was really about. Too many minor details, besides being quite depressing, and I just kept feeling like I was reading the same event over and over again, in a way. I get that the whole family is artistic and that it was a terrible waste for her mother to be as she was, but just as the oldest daughter was able to run away and hide from her mother for so many years, I also...more
Junebug
Aug 01, 2010 Junebug rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to learn the true meaning of empathy.
*Goodreads Giveaway.

PROS:
→ Easy read.
→ Poignant storytelling.
→ Engaging from the get-go.
→ Incredible prose.
Every single character in her life had personality and made a significant contribution to the book no matter how minor their role.
→ Audience was shown things, not merely told.

CONS:
→ This is a personal thing but I didn't like how minor ethnic groups were pointed out. For example, "the black woman in a pink coat" versus "the woman in a pink coat."

COMMENTS:
I won this book as a Goodreads G...more
Terry
I might go back and make this four stars instead of three. For some reason I had it in my head that this book did not get especially good reviews, or, there were a few reviewers out there that really didn't like it, somehow--I don't know why I felt sort of prejudiced against it before I even read it. I really liked this book a lot. I think it's beautifully organized. It's beautifully written. The fact that Bartok experiences a brain injury that causes her to feel empathy with the mentally ill mo...more
Linda C
This is another tough book to rate. Ideally, I would give it 3 1/2 stars, but settled for three, since it didn't quite qualify for the fourth star.

It was beautifully written, but that might be its flaw; it was too beautifully written. I felt that Mira Bartok wanted to present her mother in a favorable light and so glossed over the more unpleasant aspects of her mother's illness. I just didn't believe that her mother's behavior was so extreme that the author and her sister both had to change thei...more
Sarah
In reviews this book was likened to The Glass Castle and having loved that book I was super excited to read this one. Let me tell you though that this book is no Glass Castle. In fact I think it was trying way too hard to be The Glass Castle and in doing so became a bit of a mess. Even the title is a bit too mimicy (yes I know that is not a word) for my liking. However, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I'm guessing Jeanette Walls must be feeling pretty flattered right about now.

I...more
Deborah Gray
This was a mixed bag for me. It was extremely well written by a talented author, but despite the fact that it is a memoir of the author's mother's mental illness, I found myself far more drawn to Mira's life. Not to sound cold, but there was a stagnancy and inevitability to the mother's story. I wanted to see how Mira's played out.

That Mira and Rachel's mother, Norma, was seriously mentally ill was not in dispute. At the start of the book she is dying and the daughters have come to see her one l...more
Lolly LKH
Beautifully written memoir about growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia. It is in parts disturbing, painful and tender. It is no secret that mental illness is misunderstood or that people unfamiliar with it fear it. I think a lot of people fail to realize that the'crazy person' on the street is a human being with a disease that they did not chose to have. Such people are someone's child, sibling, parent, etc. On the same note, my own grandmother's son was diagnosed as schizophr...more
Patti Mcdermott
For such a potentially moving subject, I felt oddly disconnected from the author's story. There is never really any deep thought or feeling, it's mostly Mother did this and we did that in response and a lot of guilt expressed. I also don't like when authors ask questions constantly. For instance," ...."Should I turn back, should I go home? Will she ever be okay?""What is on the other side of the golden wall?" "What do the pictures mean?". "Can a painting save a person's life?"
Who is the author...more
John
Mira Bartok’s Memory Palace is a beautifully crafted tale of life with an absent father and a mentally ill mother. As the story unfolds, you’ll see how fine the line is between gentle artistic creativity and debilitating madness. With each new vignette, Mira reveals the wonder and the horror of life in a house ruled by insanity. As the daughters get older, the mother devolves, making her way from world-class musician to paranoid homeless schizophrenic. Despite that tragedy, Mira’s spirit never f...more
Elizabeth
Edit :: 05/06/13 :: see comment #'s 9 & 10.

This book was a bit of a let down. I wanted more details and less of the narrative. I still do not have an understanding of how Mira and her sister were able to go on and live such successful lives. Nor do I understand the overall ambivalence about having a mother that was so mentally ill. On the other hand, this is a very loving account of a difficult relationship.
Mira
Jul 25, 2010 Mira rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  (Review from the author)
I wrote this book. :-)
If you like it, please tell others about it. And visit my website later this fall when it's up and running: www.mirabartok.com

I am also trying to raise money for my mother's shelter so keep your eye on upcoming events in early 2011.

Best wishes,
Mira Bartok
Mary (BookHounds)
I had never heard of a Memory Palace before and found that the title for this book fits perfectly. A Memory Palace is created by creating an Escher like space in your brain to link memories to pictures. Mira Bartok uses her mentally ill mother's belongings and journals to create a Palace and takes you through her childhood based on the objects of her mother that are found in a storage container. This memoir is probably one of the best I have ever read and I am amazed that the author keeps a sens...more
Clif Hostetler
This is a memoir of life with a schizophrenic mother. This is not a situation one would wish for, and I as a reader was sufficiently uncomfortable with the story during the early pages that I considered bailing out and not finishing it. But when I pondered the decision it occurred to me that if I read the book perhaps I could learn a bit about schizophrenia, and maybe I would develop an appreciation for the trials endured by family members and loved ones when schizophrenia occurs.

This is also a...more
Loring Wirbel
Word has it that certain ill-informed haters on NPR Fresh Air web site and various book review web sites have been bashing Mira and her sister for their decision to change their names at adulthood, leaving their mother to drift in her disordered state from shelter to bus station to mental institution. Screw that. Bartok explains her history with grace and little rationalization, and the times she and her sister spend with her dying mother make up for decades of little contact.

I should state fo...more
Sandy
Mar 21, 2011 Sandy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sandy by: The author who is a friend
Mira's memoir of her mother's mental illness and of how she and her sister endured their battered childhood is a fascinating, compelling read. Mira's tangled, painful youth does not still her ability to feel compassion for her brilliant, gifted and deeply troubled mother. Both women, and sister Rachel as well, are talented, vital personalities brought to vibrant life in this heart-felt memoir. As their history unfolded, revealing the extraordinary and painful complexities and needs of Norma Herr...more
G
I am totally wrecked by this book--it was so heartbreaking and beautiful, tragic yet utterly fascinating. As a girl who grew up with an unmedicated bipolar mother who may also be psychotic, I loved how Mira Bartok wrote her memoir as a loving tribute to her homeless schizophrenic mother, rather than focusing on the negative side of her mother's madness. Trust me, you will never be able to look at a mentally ill or homeless woman the same after reading this book.

You must read this book immediatel...more
Sharon
Hmmm.

There are a lot of overwhelmingly positive reactions to this book, and I hesitate a little to be among its detractors. I'll let those other reviewers focus on the positives and the plot summary, and explain why I didn't love it:
It's not well written. It jumps all over the place, not in a jumble of memory but in a disjointed way. The author uses a constant "I wonder what my mother would be doing right now. Would it be A? Or would it be B? Or would it be the violent option, C?" This exact pa...more
Melissa
This book was OK. I get what Mira was trying to do, and she did do it. The rooms were well thought out and did leave many impressions and were a fine introduction to the memories she shared with us, but it seemed that we spent a lot of time wandering those rooms in a meaningless way, especially for the times when Mira had left home and country with only cursory, or none at all, returns to the original point/room.
What she didn't do was transport me. The nearly constant (and therefore insufferabl...more
Book Him Danno
I have lived with and worked with Schizophrenia, I spent over two years managing apartments and working in group homes with the mentally ill while in college. I managed a home later with developmentally delayed individuals along with several mentally ill clients who lived on their own and only needed daily or weekly visits. And yet I still cannot imagine living with this day in and day out as a child who knows nothing else. Life with a parent who is schizophrenic has to be one of the most scary...more
Doreen
I rarely have given a book 5 stars but I am doing so with this one for the book and for the experience of reading it. This past year I have been paying more attention to the quality of the writing--things like structure, use of language story development etc. Some of my reviews have referred to my frustrations with poor editing, bad writing and perhaps rushing a book into publication before it is ready. The Memory Palace reads like a work that has given attention to detail and form. The author i...more
Carolyn Stevens Shank
I read this book as a condemnation of our public health system's failure to deal compassionately and wisely with those who suffer the most extreme types of mental illness. Intelligence and talent do not protect families from the horrors of living with someone who is a victim of his or her psychoses. It is a terrible, cruel, life-destroying family situation. No one in Bartok's family went unscathed. Fear, guilt, self-doubt, anger, and despair: they run the gamut of negative feelings as a result...more
Aban (Aby)
The Memory Palace is the memoir of a woman (an artist and writer) who, along with her sister, was raised by a loving but schizophrenic mother. The sisters were forced to remove themselves from their mother in order to escape the emotional and physical harm she could have inflicted on them and also to pursue their artistic and literary careers. The author, although she was physically absent from her mother, was always emotionally and mentally connected with her and, as readers, we experience her...more
Stacie Vaughan
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 mor...more
Susan
Feb 03, 2011 Susan rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Those who like The Glass Castle
Norma Herr is dying and her two daughters, having hidden from her for years, come to her bedside to say goodbye. This memoir recounts how this dysfunctional family got to this point.

A childhood with an alcoholic father who disappears and a violent, schizophrenic mother, calls for remarkable survival skills. Norma becomes homeless and her now-adult daughters both change their names so that she cannot find them. Natalie (formerly Rachel) disconnects more than Mira (formerly Myra), but Myra communi...more
Carla Ford
Mira Bartok and her sister had it tough, dealing with a mentally ill mother. When she became so threatening that the two girls, by then grown, actually feared for their safety, they both made the hard decision to change their names and not tell their mother where they lived. The knowledge that her mother was homeless haunted Mira, and this memoir reads like a running commentary of the daily guilt that Mira felt over her break with her mother. In creating her memory palace - a place where she can...more
Uwe Hook
This book really hit home: Artist and children's author Bartok describes a life dominated by her schizophrenic mother. After experiencing decades of craziness and suicide attempts, they finally cut off all ties with their homeless mother. Once the mother faces a terminal illness, the daughters try to connect with her again and heal some of the wounds. An amazing book that deserves a larger readership.

A few memorable quotes:

- Beautiful is what we see. More beautiful is what we understand. Most b...more
Sam
This was really a disappointment for me. I absolutely love memoirs and I have been reading them like crazy. I desperately wanted to like this book.

Mira has obviously lived a very interesting life, and has overcome so much - as the daughter of a woman with paranoid schizophrenia, and as someone who survived a traumatic brain injury herself.

However, her interpretation of everything that happened to her seemed somehow empty or lacking to me. She seems to write about the most potentially heart wrenc...more
Melissa
This book was touching, as the author struggles not only with life with a schizophrenic mother, but also with a brain injury that leaves her sometimes grappling for memories of her childhood. Mira Bartok's calming narrative gives way to the reader's own thoughtful remembrances of childhood and relationships. It is refreshing to get the perspective of someone who grew up and dealt with a mentally ill person, as the reader can get a sense of compassion for those with such illnesses. As Bartok wrot...more
Justine
This was a challenging book for me. I liked the idea of a memory palace and believe I had read a review that compared this to Jeannette Wall's "The Glass Castle". I was expecting something similar with this book.

It was an interesting read but I felt detached from Mira (which may have been the point) and her relationship with her mother. This may have been Mira's coping mechanism but so much of the book centered on the act of running away from her mother and her mother's disjointed letters, inter...more
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Winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, Mira Bartok is an artist and writer living in Massachusetts. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been noted in The Best American Essays 1999 and other anthologies. She is the author of over 28 books for children and author/illustrator of the New York Times bestselling memoir and ALA Notable book, THE M...more
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“We humans are different - our brains are built not to fix memories in stone but rather to transform them, our recollections in their retelling.” 15 likes
“Beautiful is what we see. More beautiful is what we understand. Most beautiful is what we do comprehend.” 14 likes
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