The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Memory Keeper's Daughter
by: Kim Edwards

Challenges: TBR Challenge, What's in a Name?

Published: 2005

# of pages: 432

Quote: "'I had twins, Bree,' Norah said quietly, conscious of her dream, the empty, frozen landscape, her frantic searching. 'No one else will say a word about her. They act like since I have Paul, I ought to be satisfied. Like lives are interchangeable. But I had twins. I had a daughter too --'" -Norah to Bree p. 43


My overall impression of this book is that it is hard to read. It touches such intimate subjects like grief, marital problems, Down's Syndrome, out of control teenagers, and the most intimate subject of all: secrets. I found myself relating to some of the characters in parts of the books and then being annoyed and confused with others. The novel covers a wide range of time as well as a wide range of subjects, making it easier to relate at some points and harder during others.

The story follows David Henry and his wife Norah. Norah delivers twins during a blizzard, so only David (a doctor) and one nurse are present to witness that one of the twins has Down's Syndrome. It's 1964 and this condition was not as understood and accepted as it is now. David gives the affected twin to the nurse to take to a special facility for children with Down's. After visiting the facility and seeing how the patients are treated badly, the nurse, Caroline, decides to keep the baby. Instead of telling his wife the truth about the baby, he tells her that her little girl died during birth. It's a secret he must live with the rest of his life, even as Caroline sends him letters and pictures of his daughter's progress over the years and he realizes that his family could have had a much better life if he had kept the girl.

He struggles with keeping the secret from his family although it is tearing them apart. He also struggles with the memories of his sister, who died at a young age because of a heart defect. Norah develops depression after learning of the "death" of her daughter. She's all alone with almost no support. In the 60s, depression was also a condition that was not as understood and treated as it is today. It was heartbreaking to read about Norah's grief and how she felt so alone. It also made me realize that there are so many types of grief that are still not properly recognized, even in 2009. I can imagine this "same" situation occurring today, one twin surviving and another dying, and how people would still avoid Norah and even say rude things about being grateful for one child at least. Not only do David and Norah struggle, their son, Paul, is also affected by David's secret and Norah's depression. He grows up feeling alone and turns to bad friends and situations in his teen years.

The whole story about the Henry family is very depressing. In some ways I understood David's actions, I understood Norah's grief, but I also disagreed with the way they handled it in the long run. At the end of the story it's hard to know who to blame, or if anyone should be blamed, but obviously David should have included Norah in his decision. If he had respected her intelligence and abilities, he could have explained the risk of raising a child with Down's Syndrome and told her what happened to his own mother when his sister died and then let her help decide whether or not to give the child away. If only he had done that, the whole story would have been different, but probably not worth reading.

On a positive note, Caroline and her adopted daughter, Phoebe, have lives the exact opposite. While they struggle, it is with hope and they have joyous lives filled with milestones and achievements. It is interesting to see how Caroline and Norah's lives parallel each other, but are completely different. While Norah's life is superficial and she always hides her emotions, Caroline is open and meets many new friends. Norah and Paul drift apart while Caroline and Phoebe remain close throughout the book.

At the end of the book there is hope, which made it hard for me to decide...did I like this book or not? Overall, I think it was too depressing for me. Others may not agree, but even with the hope and joy in the book, I thought the depressing situations were overbearing. What I enjoyed overall: learning more about Down's Syndrome and seeing the progress that was made in the acceptance of this condition in this country over time. The quality of writing was great and I thought the story was a good pace and easy to follow, especially since it spanned almost 30 years. So, I recommend this book to those who enjoy deep stories that are thought provoking and who can handle the depressing aspects.

I'm interested to hear what you thought about this book! If you have reviewed it, please include a link to your review because I want to link to it and read more myself.

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4 comments:

Liz said...

I haven't read this one yet, but now I'm intrigued. I swear this is striking chords in my head, so I must have read about it and put it on my mental "to read" list. I happened on your blog because of the sci-fi and fantasy links (and vampires!), among other categories, and stayed to browse. Have to recommend a great new book, "Resonance," that blends scientific fact with a lot of "what ifs," for a very satisfying read. A big magnetic "shift" is going to happen -- and in some places -- it already has. How will the shifts affect everyone? Great plotting here and lots of thrills. I loved Michael Crichton and I'm glad that A.J. Scudiere is here to fill the void.

bkclubcare said...

I read this, my review is http://bkclubcare.wordpress.com/2008/04/14/the-memory-keepers-daughter.
I didn't care for it much.

Rebecca :) said...

I have this book but have not had a chance to read it yet. I think books that touch on these subjects are always hard to read. I loved A Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult and it was a hard read because I felt like I wanted to shake the mother for being so heartless to the one daughter. I think my favorite books are the ones you pull on my heartstrings the most. I will be interested to see if this particular book will fall into this category.

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