The Memory Palace (Hardcover)

Special Order - Subject to Availability

Indie Next List

February 2011
This is a beautifully written, heart-stomping, provocative memoir about a daughter's 17-year estrangement from her schizophrenic mother and their rapprochement following the mother's diagnosis of terminal cancer. Just as the daughter tries to recreate her own life after a traumatic brain injury, she is faced with revisiting her broken childhood via a cache of physical mementos saved by her mother. This memoir provokes so many questions, not just about mothers and daughters, but also about genius and sanity, abuse and resiliency, and what family members owe each other. -- Nancy Colalillo, Tome on the Range Books, Las Vegas, NM


“ People have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you’ve been through,” Mira Bartók is told at her mother’s memorial service. It is a poignant observation about the relationship between Mira, her sister, and their mentally ill mother. Before she was struck with schizophrenia at the age of nineteen, beautiful piano protégé Norma Herr had been the most vibrant personality in the room. She loved her daughters and did her best to raise them well, but as her mental state deteriorated, Norma spoke less about Chopin and more about Nazis and her fear that her daughters would be kidnapped, murdered, or raped.

When the girls left for college, the harassment escalated—Norma called them obsessively, appeared at their apartments or jobs, threatened to kill herself if they did not return home. After a traumatic encounter, Mira and her sister were left with no choice but to change their names and sever all contact with Norma in order to stay safe. But while Mira pursued her career as an artist—exploring the ancient romance of Florence, the eerie mysticism of northern Norway, and the raw desert of Israel—the haunting memories of her mother were never far away.

Then one day, Mira’s life changed forever after a debilitating car accident. As she struggled to recover from a traumatic brain injury, she was confronted with a need to recontextualize her life—she had to relearn how to paint, read, and interact with the outside world. In her search for a way back to her lost self, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where she believed her mother was living and discovered that Norma was dying.

Mira and her sister traveled to Cleveland, where they shared an extraordinary reconciliation with their mother that none of them had thought possible. At the hospital, Mira discovered a set of keys that opened a storage unit Norma had been keeping for seventeen years. Filled with family photos, childhood toys, and ephemera from Norma’s life, the storage unit brought back a flood of previous memories that Mira had thought were lost to her forever.

The Memory Palace is a breathtaking literary memoir about the complex meaning of love, truth, and the capacity for forgiveness among family. Through stunning prose and original art created by the author in tandem with the text, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.

About the Author

Mira Bartók is a Chicago-born artist and the author of twenty-eight books for children. Her writing has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies and has been noted in The Best American Essays series. She lives in Western Massachusetts, where she runs Mira’s List, a blog that helps artists find funding and residencies all over the world. The Memory Palace is Mira’s first book for adults. You can find her at

Praise for The Memory Palace…

eoeA heartbreaking, exquisitely told story of a daughtere(TM)s struggle to find beauty and order in the distorted, chaotic world created by her mothere(TM)s delusions.e e"Jeannette Walls, bestselling author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses

" the cabinet of wonders that is a frequent motif here, Bartok's memory palace contains some rare, distinctive and genuinely imaginative treasures. " --The New York Times Book Review

The Memory Palace is not so much a palace of memories as a complex web of bewitching verbal and visual images, memories, dreams, true stories and rambling excerpts from the author's mentally ill mother's notebooks. It is an extraordinary mix. --The Washington Post

"The Memory Palace is almost a fairy tale: two little girls grow up under the spell of their mother's madness. But it really did happen, once upon a time, and Mira Bartók uses her considerable powers of recollection and compassion to understand her family and to present them to readers as complete, loved human beings. This is an extraordinary book." e"Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Travelere(TM)s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry

eoeA book of aching beauty and compassion, that circles around the essence of what it is to be alive.e e"Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Ticking is the Bomb: A Memoir

Bartók juggles a handful of profound themes: how to undertake a creative life we remember one says goodbye to a loved one in a manner that might redeem in some small way a life and a relationship blighted by psychosis; and, most vividly and harrowingly, how our society and institutions throw mental illness back in the hands of family members, who are frequently helpless to deal with the magnitude of the terrifying problems it generates. On all counts, ite(TM)s an engrossing read." --Elle

"In lyrically elegant prose, The Memory Palace explores not just relationships but the slippery nature of memory itself." -O magazine

"...a haunting, almost patchwork, narrative that lyrically chronicles a complex mother-daughter relationship. "--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Mira Bartoke(TM)s Memory Palace is a beautifully crafted tale of life with an absent father and a mentally ill mother. As the story unfolds, youe(TM)ll see how fine the line is between gentle artistic creativity and debilitating madness. With each new vignette, Mira reveals the wonder and the horror of life in a house ruled by insanity. As the daughters get older, the mother devolves, making her way from world-class musician to paranoid homeless schizophrenic. Despite that tragedy, Mirae(TM)s spirit never fails to shine through. Youe(TM)ll wish you could pick her up, like a little lost kitten, but in the end, she makes it on her own." --John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye

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

Among the plethora of books now available by the children of parents with schizophrenia, The Memory Palace stands out. Elegantly written, the book details what it is like to grow up with a mother with schizophrenia and sensitively assesses the long-term effects her mother's illness had on both her and her sister. Strongly recommended. --E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., author of The Insanity Offense

"Mira Bartóke(TM)s harrowing and beautiful tale of growing up with her paranoid schizophrenic mother is in some ways a memoir about memory itself. For Bartóke"suffering from a brain injury and raised by someone who had tenuous contact with the external worlde"the question eoewhat really happenede takes on a particular urgency. She answers it with painstaking honesty, weaving deft parallels between domestic and institutional abuse, individual and national trauma. And as she recalls the shattering experiences of her childhood, literally illuminating them with her haunting mnemonic paintings, something that was never intact is made resonantly whole again." --Alison Bechdel, author of Funhouse: A Family Tragicomic

"Neither sensational nor cagily sentimental nor self pitying, this grounded, exquisitely written work...requires reading." --Library Journal

eoeThe Memory Palace is a stunning meditation on the tenacity offamilial bonds, even in the face of extreme adversity, and an artist's struggleto claimher own creative life. Bartók carries us, room to luminous room, through her memory palace, filling it with stories that link loss to grace, guilt to love, the natural world's great beauty to the creative act, andtragic beginningsto quietly triumphant closings. This extraordinary book, with its beautiful illuminated images, will stay with me." --Meredith Hall, author of Without A Map

eoePoignant, powerful, disturbing, and exceedingly well-written, this is an unforgettable memoir of loss and recovery, love and forgiveness.e e"Booklist, starred review

"the intertwined voices of grief-stricken, articulate sanity and not-so-sane but often quite poetic illness make a duet both wonderful and terrible." --The New York Times

"The ineffable functioning of memory and the brain itself is integral to Bartóke(TM)s complex story. She brilliantly teases out the emotional and physical fallout of her mothere(TM)s brain, damaged by illness...The fact that Bartók can convey how and why she still loves her mother is perhaps the booke(TM)s greatest triumph." --The Boston Globe

"This is a book so strong, so powerful, so richly anddangerously evocative that the pages seem to quiver almost imperceptively, as if at any moment they might leap to life." --More magazine

"The Memory Palace [is a] cloistered in the multichambered prism that artist and author Mira Bartók creates as both sanctuary and tribute." --The Globe and Mail

Product Details ISBN-10: 1439183317
ISBN-13: 9781439183311
Published: Free Press, 01/11/2011
Pages: 320
Language: English