“The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by Kim Edwards is not a new release.  It is a “recent classic” that was released in 2005.  I saw the book on a shelf in a vacation home and the title was familiar so I picked it up to see what the storyline of the book was.  It sounded interesting so I put it on my reading list.

This is a beautifully written novel.  Kim Edwards has a true talent at painting descriptive word pictures as she writes.  The minute details bring the words to life helping the reader truly see what he is reading.  Being beautifully written does not make the story beautiful.  The story is told very well and it is engrossing but the story is a very sad one.  The story is not pretty.

“The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” tells of a young doctor who has to deliver his own twins on a snowy night in 1964.  What should be a happy, wonderful event takes a strange twist.  Neither Dr. David Henry; his wife, Norah; nor Caroline Gill, the nurse assisting with the delivery; were expecting a second child to be born.  The first baby born is an apparently very healthy boy.  When the second of the babies is delivered David Henry immediately recognizes that the girl has Down syndrome.  With his wife asleep from the gas given as the delivery takes place, Dr. Henry makes a quick decision.  The decision will haunt his life forever and change many lives forever.  He tells the nurse, Caroline, not to tell his wife about the girl.  He fears the child will not live long and that Norah will not be able to handle the grief.  He gives Caroline the directions to a “place” where they will be able to care for the girl and asks her to take the baby there.  As Caroline questions the doctor and asks him to consider his wife, he replies, “This poor child will most likely have a serious heart defect.  A fatal one. I’m trying to spare us all a terrible grief.”  But he only created a tragic tale of grief.

Caroline does as Dr. Henry tells her but finds herself unable to leave the baby at the home or nursing facility as she was instructed to do.  She herself has to make some lifechanging decisions that will affect her and Phoebe, the newborn.  The story goes from there and separately follows the lives of David Henry; his wife, Norah; and their son, Paul; and then the lives of Caroline and Phoebe.  Much of the theme of the book can be found in some lines early in the book.  Edwards writes, “Later, when he (Henry) considered this night - and he would think of it often, in the months and years to come: the turning point of his life, the moments around which everything else would always gather - what he remembered was the silence in the room and the snow falling steadily outside. The silence was so deep and encompassing that he felt himself floating to a new height, some point above this room and then beyond, where he was one with the snow and where this scene in the room was something unfolding in a different life, a life at which he was a random spectator, like a scene glimpsed through a warmly lit window while walking on a darkened street.  That was what he would remember, that feeling of endless space.  The doctor in the ditch, and the lights of his own house burning far away.”

David Henry made a decision, and then creates a huge lie, telling his wife that she had had a second child but that the twin was born dead.   This lie recreated what had actually happened and affected his life forever. He was never able to escape in his own mind what he had done.  And his wife, Norah, struggled with the grief of this lost child that she never saw.   Caroline creates a whole new life in another place with her new child Phoebe. She faces many challenges raising a Down syndrome child in the 1960’s but manages to make the life a good one for Phoebe and works to pave new roads of opportunity for children with disabilities.

The separate but related lives are told in the novel. The lives are difficult and strained at times. The secret is a heavy one and affects the lives and relationships in a deep way. As you read the story you feel certain that the secret will be revealed at some point and you feel the burden as it affects the characters in different ways. Toward one climatic point in the book I truly felt nervous about what was about to happen. I almost wanted to stop reading because I could truly feel the emotion of the situation and was not sure that I wanted to read the consequences. Of course, I did not stop and found this to be a moving piece of literature. I will not ruin the book for you my telling you more, but I can definitely say that  this story willl stay with you long after you close the book.

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being great, I give “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” a 5

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Kim Edwards

Viking Penguin

2005

ISBN 0143037145  (Penguin paperback)

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