Friday, December 11, 2009

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards

Obviously I have been away from my Lit Blog for a while. I have three books to review, but will start with The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards. As soon as I read the review on the back of the book cover, I remembered seeing this as a film, although at the time did not realize that the film was based on a book.

Doctor David Henry is newly married, and very much in love with his wife, who is about to give birth to their first child. A blizzard in Kentucky, prevents them getting to the hospital, so he has to deliver his child at the nearby clinic, with the aid of a nurse.

The baby boy is delivered, a healthy boy. But following close on his heels is a second baby, unexpected, a little girl, who as soon as she is delivered Dr Henry can see that she has Down's Syndrome. What to do, in a split moment in time he makes a decision which affects the rest of their lives. He decides to have the nurse, Caroline take the newly born child to an orphanage, keeping the knowledge of her living, a secret from his wife. Caroline though is unable to leave the newborn girl there and makes a decision that affects the rest of her life, to keep the child. Paul and Phoebe twins, growing up apart, never knowing each other. One decision brings sorrow, the other happiness.

The book goes into why he made this decision, and how secrets within a family destroy it. You have to go back to Dr Henry's childhood, being brought up poor in the hills of West Virginia, with a very sick younger sister, who had a heart condition and who took much of the families energies and resources, but who also brought a lot of love. He saw himself in his son Paul and his younger sister in Phoebe, and he wanted to save Paul from what he went through, only remembering the bad things of his childhood, but forgetting the good. He could only remember as a student doctor a professor saying "A mongoloid, do you know what that means?" And he did all sorts of problems including the one he was most afraid of, a heart condition.

Caroline moves with the baby to Pittsburgh, where she gets a job, moving in with a woman Doro and her senile elderly father, as his nurse and helper. Here they thrive and are nurtured and grow.

His wife thinking the little girl is dead, holds a memorial service for her. She just cannot get over it. Even as years move on and she would like more children, he will not. She gives, he can't, he knows why he can't give and she doesn't. All know they have the facade of a family, but something is missing.

There is so much more to the story, split decisions, not going back and putting things right, secrets, and why we do what we do.

It is a very well written book and I would highly recommend it.


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