The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok


5 Critic Reviews

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


In the tradition of The Glass Castle, two sisters confront schizophrenia in this poignant literary memoir about family and mental illness. Through stunning prose and original art, The Memory Palace captures the love between mother and daughter, the complex meaning of truth, and family’s capacity for forgiveness

“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, a debilitating car accident changes Mira’s life forever. Struggling 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.

About Mira Bartok

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Mira Bartók is a Chicago-born artist and writer 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. Hillary Huber records audiobooks on a regular basis, garnering consistently glowing reviews and earning her several Audie Award nominations, including for A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read, Sunrise Alley by Catherine Asaro, and What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage by Amy Sutherland. She also earned an AudioFile Earphones Award for her narration of This Book Is Overdue! AudioFile magazine says, "Hillary Huber's narration is lyrical enough to be set to music." Hillary lives in Los Angeles.
Published January 11, 2011 by Free Press. 338 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Health, Fitness & Dieting. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
Peak Rank on Feb 13 2011
Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for The Memory Palace
All: 5 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 1


on Aug 25 2010

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

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NY Times

Below average
on Jan 07 2011

The pace of Bartok’s series of linked contemplative essays is slow and the material sometimes repetitive; as a result, some readers may bog down.

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Publishers Weekly

on Dec 13 2010

Bartók turns these strangely parallel narratives and overlapping wonders into a haunting, almost patchwork, narrative that lyrically chronicles a complex mother-daughter relationship.

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The Washington Post

on Jan 28 2011

However agonizing the relationship with their mother was, and surely would have continued to be had she lived, at her death her daughters salvaged a stubborn, abiding love for Norma in spite of everything. It is hard to imagine a more poignant tribute.

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on Mar 01 2011 engaging and thought-provoking book that mirrors the uncertainty and fragility of a haunted childhood.

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