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The Memory Keeper's Daughter: A Novel Paperback – May 30, 2006

1,263 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Edwards's assured but schematic debut novel (after her collection, The Secrets of a Fire King) hinges on the birth of fraternal twins, a healthy boy and a girl with Down syndrome, resulting in the father's disavowal of his newborn daughter. A snowstorm immobilizes Lexington, Ky., in 1964, and when young Norah Henry goes into labor, her husband, orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Henry, must deliver their babies himself, aided only by a nurse. Seeing his daughter's handicap, he instructs the nurse, Caroline Gill, to take her to a home and later tells Norah, who was drugged during labor, that their son Paul's twin died at birth. Instead of institutionalizing Phoebe, Caroline absconds with her to Pittsburgh. David's deception becomes the defining moment of the main characters' lives, and Phoebe's absence corrodes her birth family's core over the course of the next 25 years. David's undetected lie warps his marriage; he grapples with guilt; Norah mourns her lost child; and Paul not only deals with his parents' icy relationship but with his own yearnings for his sister as well. Though the impact of Phoebe's loss makes sense, Edwards's redundant handling of the trope robs it of credibility. This neatly structured story is a little too moist with compassion.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics roundly applaud Kim Edwards’s debut novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, which plays into one of our largest fears: What happens when a baby is born with Down syndrome? Edwards, an award-winning short-story writer, extends this question even further: What happens if this baby somehow "disappears" without the mother’s knowledge? The Memory Keeper’s Daughter explores deception, family secrets, the influence of the past on the present, our tendency to rationalize poor decisions, and the tenuous nature of human connections. In her sympathetic rendering of parallel stories, Edwards crafts a riveting "study in what really determines a family’s happiness" (Washington Post). Critics praised Edwards’s prose, which "takes on the cadence of poetry" as she describes her psychologically burdened characters (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Yet while the Chicago Tribune admired the absence of "sticky-sweet" moments, the Washington Post noted a few times when Edwards slipped "into the treacly trade." But if these minor flaws, combined with abrupt transitions, sometimes slow down the narrative, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter packs a hefty emotional punch that will keep readers turning the pages.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 401 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143037145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143037149
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,263 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kim Edwards is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which was translated into thirty-eight languages. She is also the author of the New York Times bestselling novel, The Lake of Dreams, and a collection of short stories, The Secrets of a Fire King. Her honors include the Whiting Award, the British Book Award, and USA Today's Book of the Year, as well as the Nelson Algren Award, a National Magazine Award, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she has taught widely in the US and Asia, and currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

248 of 269 people found the following review helpful By RMurray847 VINE VOICE on September 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
The initial premise of the book is terrific. We're in the '60s and a doctor finds himself in a situation on a snowy night in which he must deliver his own child, with the help of his nurse Caroline (who has a secret crush on him). The first child, Paul, is healthy, but the second, a girl, is born with Down's Syndrome. The doctor, David, is convinced his wife Norah will not be able to "handle" the trauma of having such a child, so he decides, in an instant, to hand the poor girl to Caroline and asks her to take it to a home for such children and leave it there, never to mention the girl again. He tells his wife that the daughter has died. Caroline runs to the home,finds it to be a hugely disturbing place, and then looking into the face of this new baby, decides she can love the girl and provide her with a life. She runs off with the baby, ready to start a new and uncertain life.

These initial scenes are fairly well done, and though the decision David makes is abhorrent is somewhat tempered by the fact that in the '60s, we as a society weren't quite so compassionate or understanding of folks with Downs. His logic about sparing his wife is questionable, however, and Edwards fairly effectively shows that the gulf between David's initial guilt and wariness about being caught and Norah's grief at losing a child drives the couple further apart. Norah is not allowed to grieve in the way she wants...for example, she isn't allowed to see the body of her lost daughter...for obvious reasons.

Anyway, after this the book falls apart. Author Kim Edwards, it becomes clear, hasn't learned the lesson of "showing us" how people are feeling and thinking, but telling us.
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593 of 664 people found the following review helpful By K. G Havemann on November 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't read a lot of fiction and I most especially do not read romances. I'm not sure how this book is categorized but it is the most compulsively readable, emotional, and memorable book I've read since "Gone With the Wind" over 40 years ago. This is an epic story of a doctor who, in an emotional moment and with all his medical knowledge telling him to protect those he loves, makes a decision that affects him and everyone around him forever. On a blizzardly night in 1964, David Henry helps his wife give birth to twins, one a perfect boy and the other a girl with Downs Syndrome. At that time, imperfect children were "put away" in institutions where they died young and families and friends spoke of them in shame-filled whispers, if at all. David grew up with a very sickly sister whose death at age 12 ended all meaningful life for his parents. With all good intentions of sparing his wife and new son the pain he and his parents endured, he made a fateful decision and told his wife the little girl had died at birth. It was a decision that, once made, could not be redeemed nor remedied. Time inexorably moves away from that moment but, instead of becoming distant, it grows tentacles that seize their beings and influence everything for the next three decades. We learn a photograph can capture a moment but it cannot tell you what encompasses it, what came before and after. It cannot effect change, it cannot correct. One moment, one choice, and an ever-widening circle of consequences, many roads taken and many not.Read more ›
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57 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Dar A. Hosta James on November 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
Read the one and two star reviews and then put this book right back on the shelf. The premise is intriguing, but it's lit-lite, make no mistake, and there's way too much going on and going nowhere in this tragically trite writing exercise that will surely have you skimming. If you can wade through all the smarmy similes (you will truly not be able to keep track of what all is like something else) and the abundant adjectives (does every last thing in the world really need one or two qualifiers?), you are left with the shallowest of characters whose references to their pasts pop up in the most unlikely and inappropriate places (like when Norah finally learns of her daughter's existence and then all of a sudden is "remembering, for some reason, the time she had fallen through an unmarked grate in Spain." What??) from an author who seemed to not be able to help but put every last thought she had into this one book. Edwards' phrasing is so cliched, repetitive and self-aware that it is often painful: starfish hands, shocks of hair, beams of moonlight, so much sunlight shining and spilling and falling and piercing everywhere all the time, too often in "motes," and silverfish-this silver-fish that. So contrived, it is almost comical! She writes like someone who is borrowing from too many and has not found her own voice--well, we can hope, anyway. I can see why lit-lite caliber colleague, Picoult, endorsed the book, but poor Ms. Kidd. I guess Penguin made her do it.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Linda H. Hill on December 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I seriously can't understand how this book got such glowing reviews and ended up a best seller. I purchased the paperback at an airport based on the description on the back cover and front-cover praise from Sue Monk Kidd. I feel I have been deceived.

If this had been a book written with 6th-10th-graders in mind, I might understand the appeal, but for adults, there very little new here and what little there was was diminished by unrelenting repetition to the point where it felt as though it were being shoved down my throat. As if the author wanted to scream at me, "Get it?! Do you GET IT?! Let me say it one more time so I AM CERTAIN THAT YOU GET IT!!!"

Don't even get me started on the unnecessary descriptive detail that added nothing but words to the pages while characters languished undeveloped--two-dimensional, cliché, pop-psychology placeholders dutifully fulfilling their assigned roles.

Light switches that "give in to touch", the colors of the women's clothing (for all the allusions to feminism in this book, I don't recall the same amount of attention paid to the male characters' clothing), the way sunlight dances...a little of that goes a long way. It reminds me of 9th grade English teachers who remind students to include "lots of the rich description" in their stories--as if the fact that Phoebe's dress was "silvery green" and she carried daffodils "loosely in her right hand" mattered one whit. I want to know what Pheobe thinks, how she feels, not what color her dress is or what kind of flowers she's carrying or in what hand and how. But apparently, beyond her desire to not be whisked off somewhere with strangers and her distaste for escargot, Pheobe has very few thoughts, feelings or opinions.
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