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Editorial Reviews

Mira Bartok explores the ideas of survival, family, truth, and forgiveness in the haunting literary memoir of a woman reconstructing her past and examining her relationship with her paranoid schizophrenic mother.

Hillary Huber brings lyricism and good pacing to the book. This super prolific narrator performs a wide variety of books, including the vampire series The Midnight Breed and several mysteries. Huber nails the mother’s voice and underscores the compassion and love that Bartok had for her talented and loving mother, who was ravaged by mental illness.

Bartok, an artist and children’s book author, began The Memory Palace after a car accident impaired both her long-term and short-term memory. She writes with an artist’s eye, creating keen visuals. The narrative gets bogged down in places, but the story is always made interesting by the weaving together of excerpts from Bartok’s mother’s letters and journals, her own artwork and travel experiences, and conversations with her sister. Bartok describes the secrets she kept as a child of a paranoid schizophrenic and what she gained and lost from living with her talented, loving, and very ill mother. Eventually, her mother became so violent and disruptive to her life that Bartok made the excruciating decision to change her name and not allow her mother to know where she lived. This act of self-preservation colored the next 17 years of her life. As Bartok makes her way in the world, her mother’s absence looms large, even in the far-flung places she travels, from Israel to the Norwegian Arctic.

With the success of Angela’s Ashes and The Glass Castle, memoirs of painful childhoods have become very popular. The Memory Palace distinguishes itself by its richness — peppered with art, music, and cultural explorations. Strong writing by Bartok and a thoughtful performance by Huber combine for a fine listen, particularly for memoir fans, literary fiction followers, and those with an interest in mental illness. —Julie MacDonald

Publisher's Summary

National Book Critics Circle Award, Autobiography, 2012

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 being violently attacked for demanding that Norma seek help, Mira Bartok and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe.

For the next 17 years, Mira's only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living. At the age of 40, Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that left her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed. Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where her mother was living. When she received word that her mother was dying in a hospital, Mira and her sister traveled to their mother's deathbed to reconcile one last time.

Norma gave them a key to a storage unit in which she has kept hundreds of diaries, photographs, and mementos from the past that Mira never imagined she would see again. These artifacts triggered a flood of memories and gave Mira access to the past that she believed had been lost forever.

The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists - or is lost - between them. It is an astonishing literary memoir about the complex meaning of love, truth, and the capacity for forgiveness within a family.

©2011 Mira Bartok (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A disturbing, mesmerizing personal narrative about growing up with a brilliant but schizophrenic mother.... Richly textured, compassionate and heartbreaking." ( Kirkus)

What members say

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  • Story

A little less than expected

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

After hearing rave reviews on NPR, I was excited to have a chance to read this book. It didn't feel as personal and as unique of a look into the mind of a schizophrenic and or individual highly influenced by being brought up by one as I anticipated. Although, Mira did go into detail about many experiences she had with her mother, I still felt like I needed to hear more in order to have a well rounded view of their relationship and the disease. I am not sure what else to say, other than it felt like she was holding back, and I gathered/felt how disconnected she was from her mother more than anything else.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Eat Pray Love plus schizophrenia

I wanted to like this book more, but it was difficult. It's almost as if writing as an art form is the wrong medium for a "memory palace". A visual expression would be more suited - perhaps a construction or installation of some kind. Bartok's emphasis, bordering on obsession, with objects and their description, became tiresome after a while, and I kept wanting to get back to what I thought was the real story - the untreated schizophrenic mother and her two daughters and how they dealt with this situation.

It's a sad commentary, though, on the dilemma centering on mental illness and how our institutions treat those afflicted. There is such a taboo on involuntary hospitalization, and perhaps that is as it should be. No official authority should take away a person's liberty, even if that person is ill. The only constraints are if that person becomes a danger to oneself and/or others. But many who could benefit from treatment never admit they are ill, nor do they receive any treatment, and continue to make life a living hell for their families.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • amanda
  • ventura, CA, United States
  • 03-28-11

Awful book

This book starts off with the author saying that she was in an accident which made her lose her memory. I'm thinking, how was she able to remember things to put into this book? Right away the credibility was lost. The book was boring and never took direction to a story. The reader was good though. She was the only thing that kept me listening for as long as I did. I ended up only getting to chpt. 5 and then just downloaded another one.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Could not finish

What was most disappointing about Mira Bartok’s story?

The story was random ramblings of a woman's memories of her childhood, scattered with ramblings from her mentally ill mother's journal, with bits and pieces of current time fit in. I could not get into the story even after listening for 2 hours.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The book jacket makes it sound like an interesting story.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Linda
  • Trumbull, CT, United States
  • 11-18-12

Maybe one to read rather than listen...

What would have made The Memory Palace better?

This title would have been better with a different narrator. The reader was so overly dramatic that i could not even finish the title.

Would you be willing to try another book from Mira Bartok? Why or why not?

Yes! I am curious how this book progresses, but after 4 hours of the narrator I gave up on it. The story was great, I'd like to finish the book...heading to the library.

What didn’t you like about Hillary Huber’s performance?

The performance seemed like a bad acting extra on law & order or a drama student who, at first, over acts. She was also very slow!

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Anger! I just wanted the narrator to read the story! A little inflection and character is ok, but this was too over the top.

Any additional comments?

I suggest a sample listen before purchasing. I will be doing this from now on!!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful