The Memory Palace

by Mira Bartok

The Memory Palace

Paperback, 305 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $15 | purchase


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Book Summary

The Pushcart Prize-nominated daughter of piano prodigy Norma Herr describes how her sister and she were forced by their mother's violent schizophrenic episodes to discontinue contact with her until the author's debilitating injury changed her sense of the world and enabled a healing access to family artifacts.

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In her memoir, The Memory Palace, Bartok describes how a traumatic brain injury that affected both her long- and short-term memory helped her better understand her mother's mental illness, as well as how reconnecting with her mother after a long estrangement helped Bartok re-create some of her own lost memories. "Imagine this: You have a mother out there. She gave birth to you and she loved you and you loved her and you have no idea where she is and you won't even know when she

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Excerpt: The Memory Palace

The Memory Palace


A homeless woman, let's call her my mother for now, or yours, sits on a window ledge in late afternoon in a working-class neighborhood in Cleveland, or it could be Baltimore or Detroit. She is five stories up, and below the ambulance is waiting, red lights flashing in the rain. The woman thinks they're the red eyes of a leopard from her dream last night. The voices below tell her not to jump, but the ones in her head are winning. In her story there are leopards on every corner, men with wild teeth and cat bodies, tails as long as rivers. If she opens her arms into wings she must cross a bridge of fire, battle four horses and riders. I am a swan, a spindle, a falcon, a bear. The men below call up to save her, cast their nets to lure her down, but she knows she cannot reach the garden without the distant journey. She opens her arms to enter the land of birds and fire. I will become wind, bone, blood, and memory. And the red eyes below are amazed to see just how perilously she balances on the ledge—like a leaf or a delicate lock of hair.

Every passion borders on chaos, that of the collector on the chaos of memory.

© 2011 Mira Bartok

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