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The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer's Hardcover – September 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Alzheimer's and death of a parent is a journey that others have told us about but few with such penetration and humane wisdom as Jeanne Walker's. Her story is a map of memory with mythical overtones, by which I mean that while its shape is recognizable, its details are utterly unique. I read it, mesmerized, wondering my way through this deeply moving portrait of a mother, a daughter, a family. Against expectation we are invited to join their hilarious, daunting dance: a boogie of decline whose haunting music persists."―Luci Shaw, poet, author of The Crime of Living Cautiously and What the Light Was Like, writer in residence at Regent College

"With THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY, Jeanne Murray Walker, a master wordsmith, takes us on a journey-dare I say sacred pilgrimage-into the inner world of Alzheimer's. While Walker does not flinch from the calamities and sorrows of this journey, she also provides us with fresh glimpses into hidden joys and startling surprises along the way. I commend THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY to you."―Richard J. Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and Sanctuary of the Soul

"In a kind of family alchemy, a mother's failing memory somehow excites the synapses of her daughter's. The result is a child-adult memoir of grace, poignancy, and rich compassion."―Philip Yancey, bestselling author


"As the lively, witty, energetic character who was her mother begins to become hopelessly lost in Alzheimer's, poet Jeanne Walker readily shoulders her share of caregiving, a commitment of love requiring three-hour plane rides: disrupting the rhythms of her own life as a wife, mother, and professor, disquieting her with grief, and taxing her relationship with her beloved sister almost to the breaking point.

Yet the narrative as a whole says much more. At some point, knowing so well the story of her mother's life, Walker begins to find her crazy communications intelligible-realizing that her mother is talking in metaphors and understanding them. The farther away her mother wanders, the closer their relationship. The love between them strengthens. Trying to follow the details of her mother's life as she recalls them, now, in fragments, Walker finds to her surprise that she is not only recovering her own childhood memories but also understanding them in a new way-a set of insights ranking among the most precious of her life.

In plainsong prose evoking her heartland roots, Jeanne Walker locates the gifts to be found in the darkest days of a loved one's decline and death, a story of redemption that will inform and encourage anyone caring or expecting to care for ill and aging parents-or anyone at all."―Peggy Anderson, author of New York Times bestsellers Nurse and Children's Hospital

"Alzheimer's is a word that strikes terror in most of us, particularly as we and our parents age. Poet Jeanne Murray Walker's memoir of her pilgrimage in her mother's illness and death doesn't gloss the difficulties, but it removes the terror. What remains is a sturdy witness to unexpected meanings and beauties and even humor that surface in lives of faith and suffering. A friend once told me 'Anything can be endured if you make a story of it.' This magnificently written story is the latest evidence."―Eugene H. Peterson, professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology Regent College, Vancouver B.C.

"Jeanne Murray Walker's story of a mother with Alzheimer's, like reports from other recent conflicts, is disorienting. How could it be otherwise? There are no "front lines," no clear distinctions between friends and enemies. How did this war even get started? How will it end-and what would "victory" look like? Maybe, she suggests, we need to see this disease with fresh eyes. "As I spent thousands of hours with her," Walker says of her mother, "I began to recover my own past." There's nothing syrupy about this book, but it's full of joy as well as sorrow. What a gift she has given us."―John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture

"Jeanne Murray Walker has written one of the most elegant, tender, and intelligent memoirs of Alzheimer's I have read. At once heart-wrenching and richly rewarding, intimate and objective, coldly cutting, and full of clear-eyed promise, THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY is a beautiful gathering of moments: an artful mosaic of shards that build to a portrait of faith and hope and love."―Bret Lott, author of Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian and Jewel

"In describing her mother's long passage into dementia and its reverberations through a family, Jeanne Murray Walker has given us a powerful tale of loss but also renewal, pain but also love. In simple yet beautiful language, she shows how the light of hope and grace can illuminate even the darkest journey. For many, many readers THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY will be a treasure."―Alan Jacobs, author of The Narnian

"Those of us who've accompanied a beloved parent through the valley of the shadow will instantly recognize the terrain in this lyrical and profoundly wise account of aging unto death. Jeanne Murray Walker's THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY is, hands down, one of the most beautiful books I've ever read."―Paula Huston, author of Simplifying the Soul and A Season of Mystery

"This book is not about "silver linings," though the author believes "the news about Alzheimer's is more hopeful than what we hear on the street." Fully acknowledging the anxieties, frustrations, bewilderment, and tensions that arise in caring for a parent with dementia, Jeanne Murray Walker manages to lead us through those rocky passages to a place not only of acceptance but of fascination and gratitude for the way that such caregiving brings her to new terms with her own memories, with the legacy of stories that are now hers to tell, and with shifting roles that offer rigorous lessons in humility and compassion. The way her own stories mingle with her mother's mirrors a striking truth about how what we call our own life stories are composites, our materials recycled, and everything we call "ours," a gift from those who continue to shape us even as they take their leave."―Marilyn McEntyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

"If you believe there is only darkness and loss in caring for a parent with Alzheimer's, you clearly haven't read Jeanne Murray Walker's book, which sets us straight. This page-turning memoir, fastidious in detail, delivers surprise and wit on nearly every page, teaching us about the immutability and transcendence of human personality, worth, and love. I needed this book."―Leslie Leyland Fields, author of Surviving the Island of Grace: A Life on the Wild Edge of America

"This deeply humane memoir is at once a memorial to a mother whose memory failed before her body gave way, a poignant reflection on the sister who lived close by while the author flew in repeatedly from afar, and an insightful exposition on memory itself. With a poet's eye for the apt image, THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY is also a case book of spiritual disciplines taught by what Jeanne Murray calls "the ugly twins, aging and death."―Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, Notre Dame and author of American Evangelical Christianity: An Introduction

"A beautifully written memoir of a daughter's journey with her mother over the changeful, perilous landscape of Alzheimer's. The author's compassion, humanity, and humor shine through a chaotic, if not amazing, kaleidoscope of family plans, places, and emotions. What powerfully winds through the narrative is a poet's wonderful reflections on her own history and the nature of memory, identity, and self. A dazzling, engaging story of the grace of holding on and letting go."―Dr. Myrna Grant, faculty emerita, Wheaton College, Illinois

"There is so much more to this book than the subtitle indicates. Yes, it is a pilgrimage through the Alzheimer's that befell Walker's mother, told with unflinching yet compassionate honesty, and invaluable for any reader wrestling with a loved one's parallel journey. But the telling of the story involves the connections between mother and daughter, and both with family. It evokes reflections on memory, the nature of the human person, and love itself, that should endlessly engage your soul. It is one of the best memoirs you will ever read, period. A masterpiece."―Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books, Wichita, KS

"Jeanne Murray Walker's loving account of caring for her Alzheimer's-stricken mother is also the occasion for the author to reflect on her own memories of growing up as a fundamentalist. She engagingly relates her own journey in leaving that heritage even while remaining a Christian and also intensely loyal to her memorable fundamentalist mother."―George Marsden, author of Fundamentalism and American Culture

"Jeanne Murray Walker elegantly affirms the value of memory while mourning its loss in her mother's life. She untangles complex threads of family, illness, and faith in a way that sheds light on the aging and dying process-much needed in our death-phobic culture."―Hannah Faith Notess, editor of Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing up Female and Evangelical

"Walker offers an irresistibly candid account of her mother's slide into dementia and the challenges of helping her in her final days. As her fragmented memory becomes a mosaic of the family's history, her children are forced to confront issues from the past as well as crises in the present. Walker, a poet, creates a rich texture of remembered physical detail that not only lends beauty to the narrative but anchors events and emotions in the reader's memory even as they were anchored in her own."―Stephanie Kraft, journalist and author of No Castles on Main Street

"THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY is as brave and poignant a tale of a mother's passage into Alzheimer's as you are likely to find. But what truly sets it apart is the way it triumphantly disproves our worst fear about this disease: that it robs its victims of their humanity. Like one of Shakespeare's late tragi-comedies, this book moves through loss and discord to discover, by the end, wellsprings of unexpected grace and reconciliation."―Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image magazine

"A moving honest, and often surprisingly hopeful account of a writer and her sister accompanying their mother as she experiences dementia."―Sojourners Magazine

"When I opened The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker, I expected beautiful writing.... What I wasn't prepared for was how much in the book is hopeful, loving, how much, in the end, is balanced, is gained."―The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Walker's book stands out for several reasons. For one, the writing is superb. ... This isn't just a tale about an elderly parent or a frazzled caregiver. It is also, and equally, a coming-of-age story, and Walker's deft juxtaposition of her own story with her mother's is its genius."―Christian Century

About the Author

Jeanne Murray Walker's poems and essays have appeared in seven books as well as many periodicals, including Poetry, The Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Image, The Atlantic Monthly, and Best American Poetry. Among her awards are an NEA Fellowship, eight Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships, and a Pew Fellowship in The Arts. She is Professor of English at The University of Delaware as well as a mentor in the Seattle Pacific University Low Residency MFA Program. In her spare time Jeanne gardens, cooks, and travels. Learn more at www.jeannemurraywalker.com.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Center Street; 1 edition (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455544981
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455544981
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,229,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rich J. on September 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Walker's book is written with the soul of a poet--someone unafraid to see both the difficulty and the gift of suffering. At times painful, poignant, laugh-out-loud-funny, and full of perfect details, this book is a love story from daughter to mother, mother to daughter, and ultimately to the reader. What a gift to be able to find hope and healing inside circumstances that many fear so greatly. This memoir is recommended for all.
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Where do I begin? Perhaps the beginning. Last April, I met Jeanne Murray Walker at an event where I work and pre-ordered her book shortly after hearing about this book project. Just the details excited me, and I wasn't disappointed. Not at all.

Jeanne Murray Walker's The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer's ought to be required reading for anyone who has a parent or loved one sliding into dementia or Alzheimer's. Walker approaches the subject with grace, love, and a human touch that is remarkable in its compassion. While she, like others, goes through the expected periods of anger and frustration that plague those who struggle with this gargantuan care-taking task, Walker is able to step back and examine the patterns that occur in her mother's communication. She's able to apply a rare mix of reflection on her childhood and understanding she's gleaned from life, study, teaching, and even her religious backgrounds to pen a beautifully written memoir that fully honors her mother and family, especially her sister, Julie.

This is a book I could hardly put down for any reason! Walker is an award-winning poet, and her eloquent use of words translates wonderfully to prose. When she's feeling anger, it comes through loud and clear. When she is tickled by something, the reader laughs with her. Walker helps her readers feel every emotion she feels all the way through the book. Why, I even wanted to get up and go to Peru with her, and I've never wanted to go there in my life. Still don't, but for those few moments, I did. I really did.
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My copy of _The Geography of Memory_ arrived yesterday, and I couldn't put it down (in spite of the stack of papers waiting for me to grade).

The author has done a fantastic job of showing the relationship between her and her mother (and sister), and I enjoyed it when her husband pops into the picture imitating Igor Stravinsky!

This book clearly shows that that journey through Alzheimer's is a family affair. It should be very helpful to the thousands who are sharing this challenging experience.

What a beautiful book!
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This book is wonderful. It portrays a complex and provocative mix of childhood upbringing in Christian fundamentalism and care giving to an aging parent. It likewise is fair-minded and loving, reflective and humorous, refusing to opt for religious or secular judgmentalism and opting instead for nuanced understanding and startling wisdom, a very rare combination. Most of all, this book offers a deeply moving account of ushering a parent through dementia with dignity and great love.
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For anyone who grew up in a subculture in which one's beloved parents held core beliefs that were at odds with, and perhaps considered superior to, those of the dominant culture - an inwardly circumscribed society in which your child-self implicitly shared this world-and-life view until you shook or slipped off its beliefs in your teens or beyond (or adopted a different tradition's perspective on the same founding stories) - then you may find your own memories redemptively jogged by this story of a late-middle-age English professor who completes the circle with a beloved, once confining mother who now requires active daughtering as her cognition and independence falter.

Jeanne Murray Walker grew up (like me) in the evangelical sub-culture of the American heartland. Our intellectual and spiritual migrations from the religious tradition of our youth began at the evangelical college we both attended: Wheaton College in Illinois, Billy Graham's alma mater. (Full disclosure: as members of the class of 1966, she and I began a friendship which still continues; coincidentally, we are both ritual-loving Episcopalians.)

Among her choices for college, Jeanne felt Wheaton would offer the richest intellectual environment. Her mother - mourning a son who had died suddenly at the end of his first week at college - followed her to Wheaton so Jeanne could live at home. Despite this constraint, Jeanne was always kind and courteous toward Mother - who was not a smotherer, and warmly welcomed the young college student's friends into their home. Marrying after college, the author pursued her love of literature through graduate education, into teaching, writing and publishing, and mothering (which yielded many wonderful metaphors for her poetry).
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I heard Jeanne Walker speak and had to read this book. My mother had passed away and I had been caring for her for several years I heard a little of my story and my sister's and hoped to further my understanding. This book is beautifully written to start with and with dignity and humor is a great help for anyone who has gone through the caring and death of a parent.
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