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The Memory Palace Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 11, 2011

121 customer reviews

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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.)
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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 They changed their names, too, and had unpublished telephone numbers and addresses.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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439183317
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439183311
  • ASIN: B005EP1O6U
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,049,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. Her most recent book, THE WONDERLING, an illustrated middle grade fantasy, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press in 2017. The feature film based on the book, and directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader) is due out in 2018. A You can find Mira at:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

169 of 173 people found the following review helpful By BookMan on January 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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 By C. Smith on 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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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful By N. Gallo on January 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By zenhole on February 5, 2011
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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By John A. Sarkett on April 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. Albert Camus

This is the second volume of anguish to come my way out of Cleveland, my home town, this year. The first was a marvel, from Jill Bialosky, History of a suicide: my sister's unfinished life.

That one came with the wallop of an atomic bomb. But it didn't prepare me for the hydrogen bomb follow-up (atomic bombs are merely the trigger for the 24x more powerful H-bomb) that came my way by an innocuous-seeming mention in the high school class newsletter of The Memory Palace by one Myra Bartok. What an innocent title, but the subject beckoned: a schizophrenic mother. Another author from my high school, I'll give it a look.

I started reading, and stopped breathing: Myra Bartok (a name she chose for herself taken from the famous Hungarian composer) and/or her writing is : Unrelenting, menacing, powerful, astonishing, raw, heartbreaking. Bialosky had stood me up with the left hand, and Bartok finished the fight with a right cross. Out cold.

Bialosky hailed from Shaker Heights, the tony east side suburb that proletarian west siders like us may never even see after a lifetime in Cleveland (though I left town at 17). Turns out Ms. Bartok grew up a mere four blocks from my house. I knew every reference to the local schools, and landmarks, first-hand, back-of-my-hand.

I finished the book, but still I wonder: how she could even function, let alone write a NY Times bestseller after her abusive childhood, abusive from every quarter, grandfather, grandmother, classmates, but especially her schizophrenic mother. It simply astonishes.
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