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Book Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Author: Kim Edwards
Genre: General Fiction
Pub. Date: May 2006
Format: Paperback, 432pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Edition Description: REPRINT

Generally, I don�t have time to sit and read a book from start to finish. (In truth, I didn�t last night.) But I just couldn�t let The Memory Keeper�s Daughter go. Kim Edwards�s novel of twins separated at birth, one normal and healthy, the other with Down�s syndrome is heartrending and painful.

The story begins in 1964, a time when Down�s syndrome was little understood. Technical knowledge had been gained, but little was known about the people with one extra chromosome. Dr. David Henry, the father, ends up performing the birth of his own children. In a split second decision, after finding the girl twin has Down�s, he sends her with the attending nurse to an institution. The nurse, Caroline Gill, can�t let the baby be raised in such a place, and steals her away.

The story follows both families over a period of 20-odd years as the children grow up. Paul is a healthy young boy who loves music. Phoebe is a sweet girl who learns just a little bit slower than most people. The joys and pains of both families and the effect of David�s decision a followed through those twenty years.

One, the apparently healthy family of Dr. Henry and his wife Norah is torn completely apart. The other, Phoebe�s family is brought together and grows through adversity.

Many readers of this book point to Dr. Henry as the villain of the story. He is made to seem like a man unwilling to love a daughter who is different. This is not an accurate representation. Dr. Henry was acting in the best interests of his wife, or so he thought. Although that decision does eventually rip his family apart, it was one made for love. I do not defend the actions of this character, as ultimately, they are abhorrent, but I think that Dr. Henry�s character is less the villain than people think. His wife was a perfectionist, always trying to have things perfect, to be perfect. Such a character as Norah would make a man do anything to ensure that her life was perfect. In 1964, having a baby with Down�s would have shown Norah to be less than perfect. Dr. Henry tried to spare her that pain, (although he ultimately caused more than he saved), to allow her to remain a perfect wife and mother. I would therefore point to no villain, but rather to flawed characters as the true evil in this story.

This is a very sad story. Moments of triumph are few, success and wealth are shown for the useless things they are, and despair rules. At about the fifth or fourth chapter, I leaned over and told my wife that rarely had I read such a depressing book. Fortunately, the despair was eventually alleviated a few chapters later.

I recommend this book as a work of fiction that will both sadden and delight you. Life is shown honestly, although fictionalized, and the effect of one decision on each character�s psyche is delved into with no holds barred.