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



The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a sad book. The writing is so beautiful that you want to read it out loud. Yet the story is so full of sorrow, loss and longing that it makes you want to weep. It reminds me of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – delicate, thought-provoking, a book to be read when you are alone. It grants us an insight that is akin to Susie Salmon’s – tragedy happens and life goes on, and you observe your loved ones struggling through their lives, sometimes with smiles but more often with tears and heartache.

In The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, author Kim Edwards creates the stories of four people involved in a lie. When David secretly sent his daughter away, after she was born with Down’s Syndrome, he forever altered what would to be considered as success and failure, happiness and disappointment, hope and loss, and freedom and isolation, by himself, his wife Norah, his son Paul, and Caroline, the woman who raises the baby. From that fateful day in 1964 to the story’s end in 1989, we see how their individual and often separate lives unfold while being bound together by their silent yearning for some kind of truth. It is a fascinating tale of consequences, of the rippling effect of one drop of water over the whole ocean.

Edwards does a great job pacing the story and keeping its tone steady and balanced. Indeed she writes from four different perspectives, which she admits is “liberating”, allowing her to “step back from one point of view and work on another whenever I was stuck… to attain a certain level of detachment from one character while working on another”. However, I suspect she casts a loving eye on David, the character that is easy to create yet most difficult to develop, the “fixed point” of all transitions, the centre of all past, present and future possibilities. A tragic man he is, with the weight of one fluttering butterfly’s wing and the resulting fierce storms across the globe upon his shoulders. When Edwards describes David’s way of coping with the loss of his family as “to try to move on; to take control of his life and to push forward; to become a success in the eyes of the world”, I can only think of Sisyphus.

And Norah reminds me of Abigail, Susie Salmon’s mother. Norah is perhaps the most loved woman in the world, although she herself may not think so.

A popular Chinese saying compares a woman’s heart with a needle at the bottom of the ocean. In contrast, I think The Memory Keeper’s Daughter as a novel sheds light on a man who is constantly tormented by memories of love. David’s heart transforms from a coal-like ordinary existence to shine like a diamond after a life-long endurance under external and self-inflicted pressure. It is a gem most lovingly polished and presented as a gift to those who aspire to understand grief.


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