Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter : A book report

[I just finished reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter, a novel by Kim Edwards, published in 2005, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on this book . I haven't done a book report since I was in college (but I still remember the basics, taught to me so well by my third grade and sixth grade teachers ). As a side note, since I don't normally read a book twice, I'd be happy to pass this book along to anyone who thinks they might like to read it. Just let me know, with a comment or an email.]

The book opens in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1964, when David, a physician (a bone specialist), and his wife, Norah, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. When Norah's labor begins, it is in the middle of the night and in the middle of a freak Kentucky snow storm. Although David tries to get Norah to the hospital in time, the weather defeats him. Since Norah's labor is progressing rapidly, he stops at the clinic where he practices, which is closed for the night, and calls both his partner physician and the clinic nurse, asking them to come in and help deliver the baby. But when a car accident delays his partner, and the baby won't wait, David, who has not delivered a baby since med school, has no choice but to deliver the baby himself, with the assistance of his capable nurse.

What happens that night, in the middle of a snow storm, in the small clinic, is a dark secret shared only by David and his nurse - the secret around which the rest of the story revolves. Norah, who is anesthetized, is unaware that she delivers not only her son, whom she names Paul, but his twin, a baby girl. When David sees his baby daughter, he recognizes in her the unmistakable signs of Down's syndrome. Immediately, two specters rise to haunt him: first, his own precious sister, also a Down's syndrome child, who died at a young age because of a heart condition commonly associated with Down's; and secondly, his mother, whose life was destroyed by grief at the loss of her daughter. So, determined to spare his wife that kind of pain, he makes a hasty decision. He hands the baby girl to the nurse, Caroline, and tells her to take the baby to an institution he knows of, that will accept and care for such children. When Norah regains consciousness, David hands her their healthy baby boy, and tells her that she also delivered a baby girl who died at birth. Meanwhile, the nurse, Caroline, who cannot bring herself to leave the baby at the institution, slips out of town and begins a new life in Pittsburgh, as the mother of baby Phoebe.

The deception and the secrets conceived that night create, over the next three decades, a tangled web of emotional rifts between David and Norah, and their son, Paul. The author also develops the story of Caroline, Phoebe and the man, Al, who marries Caroline and raises Phoebe as his own daughter. Each character deals in his or her own way with confusion, regrets, reactions and emotional wounds that are, in one way or another, spawned by the secret decisions made by David and Caroline the night the two babies were born.

Why do we do what we do? How can good intentions lead to bad choices? How have attitudes changed since 1964, when this story began? How can secret knowledge affect your life and, in the end, those dearest to you? Who is the true beneficiary of forgiveness? Is redemption always attainable? These are some of the questions that you will grapple with in reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

My rating: 4 stars out of 5. Readable - a page turner. Thought-provoking.

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