15 Books to Watch for in January 2011
From a riveting memoir of a woman's tormented relationship with her mother to the life lessons gleaned from overcoming a debilitating disease, O's editors pick 15 amazing reads to start the year.
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The Memory Palace
The Free Press
The story of Mira Bartók's tormented relationship with her
mother initially recalls Jeannette Walls's The Glass
Castle in its riveting depiction of unconventional families.
But in lyrically elegant prose, Bartók's The Memory
Palace explores not just relationships but the
slippery nature of memory itself: Having lost much of her ability to
remember in a debilitating car accident in 1999, Bartók must
piece together her own past as she delves into her mother's. Norma, a
aformer musical prodigy diagnosed as schizophrenic, adores her two
daughters with a passion most of us wish we'd felt from our parents. But
Norma's love is also scary. As the frequency and violence of her
breakdowns increase—including suicide attempts and physical
attacks on the girls—her daughters pull away, finding
temporary escape in academia and then, in Bartók's case, in art
and world travel. Eventually, after Norma lunges at Bartók
with a broken bottle that "slices into the front of my neck, right below
my Adam's apple," the sisters change their names to keep their mother,
by this point often homeless by choice, at bay. But even after 17 years,
Bartók can never emotionally let her mother go. She
understands too well Norma's sad, mad zest for life, as expressed in the
letters and notebooks Bartók quotes like prose poems. "What I
respect most in this world are those who can combine words and pictures
together in the same book or piece of art," Norma had once written.
Bartók does just that, inserting her own illustrations and
photographs into the text to create a heartbreaking expression of
devotion to a mother she loved but had to abandon in order to survive.
— Liza Nelson