A Mother’s Mental Illness – “The Memory Palace” by Mira Bartok

What’s truly chilling about Mira Bartok’s memoir “The Memory Palace” isn’t all the abuse and violence Mira faces due to her mother’s schizophrenia, but rather the fact that – untreated – her mother goes to live on the streets.

As someone who lives in the big city of Chicago, I see homeless people each and every day on the street, bus, and train.  It’s a heart-stopping thought to think that some of these people are estranged mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons, lost to the world because of their illness.

Yeah.  “The Memory Palace” is far from a happy book.

Mira and her sister grew up with a single mother who lost her mind to schizophrenia.  For years, the children dealt with their mothers attacks, paranoia, and oddities, until it all grew too intense to handle anymore.  As the years went by, it all got much worse.  After their grandmother (who had been handling their mother) was diagnosed with Alzheimers, their mother stabbed their grandmother and the girls – now adults – grew fearful.  So, they shut themselves off from their mother, changed their names, and basically hid.

Seventeen years later, their mother has cancer and the trio are reunited again.  Things are remembered, truths are unearthed, and it’s a rather steep climb for a lesson in self-discovery.  Nothing about this book is easy or pleasant, and none of the life-changing choices are made carelessly.  No one wants to leave behind a helpless parent or family member, but sometimes it’s the only way to help yourself.

A searing portrait of mental illness and the affects it has on those living around it, “The Memory Palace” is a masterpiece of memoir.  Bartok, an artist by trade, uses words like paints and vividly shows the reader what her hellish life was like.  (In addition to a crazy mother, she also has a grandfather who could be considered abusive and part of her own memory erased by a car accident.) By sharing her mother’s journal entries along with her own words, she helps illuminate the things that bind mother and daughter together, even while driving them worlds apart.  While not a delight to read, it’s certainly a book I’d suggest to those who truly believe in the power of the written word to educate and enlighten people.


About JamieP

Books. Adventures. Chicago. Married. Mommy. Cat.

Posted on March 23, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I wish there were more stars to give this book. It is beautiful and heartwrenching. Through all the heartbreak, trauma, and pain, the love between Mira and her very ill mother prevails. I love that she tells her story in vignettes that include her experiences with travel, education,creative pursuits and other relationships. The artwork is breathtaking and enhances the storytelling perfectly. That she and her sister are able to come full circle and reconcile with their mother in her final days is a tribute to their resilience and unwavering love for each other.

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