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The Memory Palace [Kindle Edition]

Mira Bartok
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.01 (38%)
Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 œthe 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. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Bartók’s mother, Norma Herr, was a pianist who suffered from schizophrenia and was homeless for much of her life. When Bartók was a child, her unpredictable mother tried to jump out of a second-floor window. After enduring years of painful uncertainty, Bartók and her sister made the difficult decision to cut off all ties to their mother, with only a post office address as a tenuous connection. They changed their names, too, and had unpublished telephone numbers and addresses. Only after Bartók suffered a debilitating brain injury in an automobile accident and discovered her mother’s stored artifacts were she and her mother able to re-connect. After the accident, Bartók covered her computer with Post-it notes of “things I can’t remember anymore,” yet memories of her childhood fill these pages as images come flooding back and she tries valiantly to make sense of them within a contemporary context that bridges the past and the present. By the time mother and daughter meet again, some 17 years later in 2006, her mother is dying from cancer. Poignant, powerful, disturbing, and exceedingly well-written, this is an unforgettable memoir of loss and recovery, love and forgiveness. --June Sawyers

Product Details

  • File Size: 3215 KB
  • Print Length: 338 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B008LAVBHC
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003UYUP80
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,177 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
165 of 169 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Memory Palace - A Unique and Compelling Memoir January 10, 2011
By BookMan
I don't particularly care for harrowing survivor memoirs from children of abusive or mentally ill family members. They almost always come off as sensational, blaming, or whining diatribes, and do we really need another one of those? The good news is The Memory Palace doesn't even come close to falling into that trap. Mira Bartok's story of her relationship with her schizophrenic mother who eventually becomes homeless is at once compelling, compassionate, and possesses some of the most beautiful and lyrical prose I've ever read in memoir. And did I mention it's also a page-turner? However, what really sets this book apart is how Bartok integrates her beautiful artwork into the structure of the book to help recall her past and to bring her authentic story to the page. The Memory Palace is essentially an illustrated memoir that details the incredible bond between mother and daughter, the issue of homelessness, and how we, as a nation, perceive mental illness and disability in our culture. It is a visceral and profound story, and is so much more than a blur of one sensational event after another. This is an artful memoir of an examined life, one that exudes strength, determination, and above all, love. Highly recommended.
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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Memory Palace--by Mira Bartok January 8, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I wish there were more stars to give this book. It is beautiful and heartwrenching. Through all the heartbreak, trauma, and pain, the love between Mira and her very ill mother prevails. I love that she tells her story in vignettes that include her experiences with travel, education,creative pursuits and other relationships. The artwork is breathtaking and enhances the storytelling perfectly. That she and her sister are able to come full circle and reconcile with their mother in her final days is a tribute to their resilience and unwavering love for each other.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meeting of Minds January 6, 2011
Ms. Bartók's memoir is an intense revelation of love between mother and daughter that breaks the barriers of mental illness, isolation, desperate measures and accidental injuries. As I read this heart-rending biography I marvel at the survival of such love; loves come and go but one perseveres against all odds. Ms. Bartok travels frequently and these experiences are included with her more profound experiences regarding her mother. This book will appeal to anyone who has ever loved someone with a mental illness, or been separated for long periods from a parent. But a more universal appeal is also here, that of the girl in search of herself as well as her family. She is always ready to try new things, to make unusual efforts on her journey. A beautiful book.

Nadine Gallo
Hadley, Mass.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Although I didn't grow up here, I live in Cleveland now, and this book was set here. I also had a mother who suffered through a nervous breakdown, and what was likely undiagnosed chemical depression, so I was very interested in this book from the beginning.

This is not an easy read. It is a tale of a daughter whose mother's mental illness caused her to only communicate with her mother through a social worker and a post office box. It is a story of her growing up, her worries and her guilt. If, like most of us, you can't imagine children leaving their mother to live homeless in the street while they continue on with their lives, reading this book will bring you a greater understanding of why it may sometimes be necessary to do so. For me, it also highlights the need for some type of reform of our broken mental health care system. When a mentally-ill mother holds a knife to her daughter's throat and is let out of the hospital and sent home on her own the same day, there's a problem. I don't pretend to know how to fix it (if I did, maybe I could run for office), but it definitely needs to be fixed somehow.

The writing ... well, the writing is luminous. The Memory Palace is a house of memories in one's mind where you place pictures of things that will stir your memories, and as she takes us through her own memory palace, Ms. Bartok's words embed themselves in your heart. You feel her quiet sorrow and the embarrassment that she is caused by her mother's illness; her fears when her mother leaves her alone when they're out, saying that she'll be right back, and she never comes back. As she goes through her own battle with a brain injury, it helps her understand a bit more about what her mother must feel with the voices inside of her head battling for dominance.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, Mira February 5, 2011
By zenhole
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In 1968, I was married to a beautiful woman who was raised in a family with hidden histories of mental illness. To this day I do not understand all that happened within our own family as a consequence of my wife's schizophrenia, but Mira Bartok's book captured events parallel to those we endured. We had four children who had the greatest mother a child could ever have until her illness surfaced in 1981 and led to her leaving our family when the children were 3,7,10 and 11 years old. Hers was a religious and inaccessible delusion that God was calling her to leave her home and become a bag lady and a prophet to correct the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church.
Although we had family counseling, and the children were most successful in their academic careers, many of their fears and sufferings were never shared and continue to this day to affect their adult memory of their individual childhood experiences.
Last week, their mother told me for the first time in thirty years, what a fine father I had been to them and how sorry she was that she had caused us such trials. It was as if the clouds parted and the sun shone brilliantly through. Certainly, Ms. Bartok's memoire retold a similar revelation. There is hope and her own life and guilty feelings are not the conclusion. It is so helpful for those of us dealing with loved ones suffering from mental illness to hear Mira's story.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars This book wonders ...
but that is the point. I believe a good many of daughters share some of the same stories, feelings and emotions.
Published 3 days ago by cougar98
4.0 out of 5 stars Literary
So well written. It is a literary piece and a model for the intermediate writer. I recommend you buy it.
Published 28 days ago by g goldman
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written memoir of a daugter's relationship with a schizophrenic...
This is an excellent harrowing book about how love is able to resolve even the most difficult relationships. I couldn't put it down.
Published 1 month ago by Ina Marlowe
2.0 out of 5 stars Such a Sad Story!
It wasn't just the misery experienced by the two sisters in this story that turned me off. It seemed too much like an "all about me" piece, but I suppose that is the basis... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Katfish
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest
This is the most honest book I've read about having a parent with schizophrenia. It's a devastating read, but comforting all the same because someone else is living with the same... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Beach Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars The Memory Palace
This was a book I could not put down, I ordered it on my Kindle, and finished it with
a sympothy for a girl that was growing up with schizophrenia Mother. Read more
Published 2 months ago by bernice melnyk
4.0 out of 5 stars A brave soul bears her heart.
I think it took great courage and love to write this book. It is so easy to judge when you have not been somewhere. Once you have, you will never judge again. Read more
Published 2 months ago by susan bartel
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding memoir
The is the first book I have read from the perspective of a child whose parent had schizophrenia. The author deals with her mother with realistic dignity.
Published 3 months ago by M. J. Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting
When I say I could not put this book down I meant it. A friend recommended it. If you ever had to deal with mental illness yourself or watched anyone suffer carrying this burden... Read more
Published 3 months ago by BEtty Samuels
5.0 out of 5 stars ...very painful, yet comforting read for me
I have lost my grandmother and my mother in the last six years. They were my parents and with whom I cared very deeply for. My family, like every family, isn't perfect. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Blas Estrada
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More About the Author

Mira Bartók is a Chicago-born artist and the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling memoir, THE MEMORY PALACE which was an ALA Notable Book and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Autobiography in 2012. She is also the author of twenty-eight books for children. Her writing has appeared in literary journals and anthologies and has been noted in The Best American Essays series. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she runs Mira's List (, a blog that helps artists find funding and residencies all over the world. You can find her at: and find out about upcoming events at


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