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R&R 068 | The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Finally, here's R&R 068.
R&R 078 will be posted this weekend.

Kim Edwards
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
First published in: 2005
This edition: Penguin Books, 2006
ISBN: 0-14-303714-5
Cover design by Greg Mollica

R&R 068 | The Memory Keeper's Daughter

When Dr. David Henry's wife goes into labor, it's a stormy winter evening in the nineteen sixties; David has no other choice but to deliver his own children. Twins – a boy and a girl. The boy is perfectly healthy… but as a doctor, Henry immediately realizes his newborn girl has Down syndrome. Convincing himself he has the best intentions, he makes the decision which leaves his wife heartbroken and leaves his daughter with nowhere else to go into the (instantly loving) arms of David's nurse, Caroline. Unable to dump the baby at an institution at David's request, Caroline decides to leave town and raise the baby (Phoebe) as her own.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter centers around the consequences of David's secret decision. His wife thinks her daughter has died in childbirth. A nurse, unprepared to be a mother, lives a life in hiding out of love for a girl who is not her own. A brother is left to wonder about his twin sister and what she would have been like. Then, there's David's own struggle with what he has done.

Because he definitely struggles. It would be easy to judge David Henry for it. It's hard to imagine what kind of man, father, doctor would do such a thing? His daughter, a fragile newborn who needs him, is rejected and sent off like she's nothing more than an errand to run, delegated to the next person who has time for it. A package to be delivered to the nearest orphanage.

I'm going to relate something personal in this review. I hesitated sharing this at first but I think it will help to explain the power of this book. At least for me.

Down Syndrome 'runs' in my family. One case involves my grandfather's sister, Marie, born in the late 1930's. She passed away in October 2000 and lived to be 62 years old. She had the mental capabilities of a 5 year-old, but just as much spirit and joy. Of course my great-grandparents didn't recognize what she had at the time of her birth, unlike David. But when my great-grandparents find out, they accepted their daughter, acknowledged her and they tried to do right by her. She was always loved and taken care of (even after her parents had died; her siblings took over) – and I truly believe she was happy.
Then there was my little cousin. He didn't make it.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, or well, David's decision broke my heart quite a bit, to be honest. Like I feared it would. It would have been easy for me to just stop reading right there. I was angered by this man's cowardice.

But… I understood, too.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter isn't as black and white. Kim Edwards shows tremendous insight into people and their dilemma's, their emotions before and after a choice is made, their guilt and other consequences – and ultimately, their redemption. Kim Edwards wanted to write a book about a family secret: What keeping a secret can do to those keeping it, and those it's being kept from. No, it's not black and white. The Memory Keeper's Daughter is full of grays, some lighter, some darker, but all grays.

David made the wrong decision. I do feel this, but I can't hate him for it. David is a complex character with a traumatic history (one that explains a lot about his choice). He hopes to protect his family, and course he also tries to protect his younger self from living his past all over again, from being confronted with his own pain.
David is hard to forgive. I'm not sure I can. But I can understand. I understand him.

Kim Edwards has stirred up an intense inner conflict within a reader, a discussion between head and heart which concludes with compassion and mercy. What an incredible talent for a novelist to have. She's someone aspiring writers can look up to.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter. What a book.

My heart was broken in the beginning, on the mend when reaching the end – but divided all the way.

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R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008, 2009 and beyond