Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review:: The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

This is one of those books that will forever change me.  I'm really not sure why it had such a deep impact on me, but it ached my heart to read every page. 

On a cold winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry's wife, Norah, goes into labor during a terrible blizzard.  Once they've started toward the hospital, they realize their car will never make it, so they decide to stop at his office, where he is an orthopedic surgeon.  Along with the assistance of his trusted nurse, Caroline, he delivers his own perfect, healthy son.  And then, to their surprise, his little daughter, who very obviously has Down's Syndrome.  While Norah was sedated, Dr. Henry makes a fateful decision to send this imperfect child away, telling his wife upon her awakening that the child was stillborn.  He hands the baby to Caroline and instructs her to take the infant to an institution just out of town.

That one decision, hastily made in an effort to spare his wife the potential pain and struggle of raising a child with a disability...a disability that may lead to an early death...cost everyone involved, including both children, something precious.  Norah falls into a deep, inconsolable depression that haunts her for the rest of her life.  David's shame and guilt force him to overcompensate in some areas, and fall so short in others that a great divide is created between him, his wife, and his son.  Caroline, who once setting foot through the doors of the mental institution, decided to keep this sweet child for herself, uprooted her entire life, running away to another city to raise her new daughter.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every single page of this book broke my heart.  While there were joyous triumphs enjoyed by each of the characters, present for all of them was an overwhelming sadness for what could have been.  Human character is revealed in how each person's decisions are motivated out of a love for the others involved, whether those decisions were the right ones to make or not.  And that complicates things exponentially.  You want to despise the doctor for what he did, yet when you discover what in his life led him to want to protect his wife, you can understand why he did it.  You want to love Norah, but her bitterness and inability to move forward wear thin on you, causing you to lose patience with her.  Caroline's seemingly heroic act, in the long run, was also a tragic mistake, costing another mother a lifetime of opportunities with her own daughter, and a boy with his twin.  There is some redemption at the end of the novel, which ends on a hopeful note, yet the theme is the utter heartbreak of the human condition.
This novel is beautifully written, and compels you to love these make-believe people, flaws and all.  Reading this book has given me a fresh perspective on the motives of others who are in pain, and has strengthened my appreciation for the blessings I have been given in life.  I highly recommend this book.

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