Paul and Phoebe are twins. They were born on March 6, 1964 to David and Norah Henry. David, a doctor, delivers them himself. Paul was first – a strong and healthy boy. Then came Phoebe, much smaller than her brother and David knows the first time he looks at her, that Phoebe has Down syndrome. The attitude towards people with Down syndrome in 1964, is far removed from the open minded view that we have today and as David looks at his new daughter, he recalls an experience from his time in medical school:
“A classic case, he remembered his professor saying as they examined a similar child, years ago. A mongoloid. Do you know what that means? (He) had recited the symptoms he’d memorized…flaccid muscle tone, delayed growth and mental development, possible heart complications, early death. Poor kid. There’s nothing they can do except try to keep him clean. They ought to spare themselves and send him to a home.”
Fearing the grief that could be felt by his family in the coming years, he gives the baby to the nurse assisting him and tells her to take the baby to an institution. Then when his wife finally wakes up, he tells a lie. As you can probably guess, the lie does not eliminate the grief – it simply leaves a hole in the lives of everyone affected, except that of the little girl who was unwanted by her father.
In The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards explores the way this lie is felt by those directly affected by it. From David who carries the heavy secret on his own, to Paul who grows up with thoughts of a sister he has never known. The book is a startling look at the attitude towards people with disabilities in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, particularly in regards to education and the disturbing way which they are viewed by those in the medical profession. Edwards does a great job of covering the story from all points of view and all of the characters speak with their own voice – it is difficult to tell that it is the one author speaking for all of them.
This is a beautifully written story with a couple of shocks along the way and some moments that will make your face turn red with anger at the injustice of it all (yes, I would have slapped that nurse in June 1970). It will also leave you undecided about the motives of the characters. For example, I found myself thinking, what she did was wrong, but it’s his fault that she did it, so is it really wrong? If you read the book (which you should), you’ll get what I mean
RATING – 8 out of 10.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – I think if you are a fan of Jodi Picoult you would probably like this. BUT, if you are not a fan of Picoult, I think you would still like this (it’s difficult not to like a well written book). It made me think of My Sister’s Keeper, but I thought that the different points of view from the characters was better written than in Picoult’s book (just my opinion)
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – Despite his actions, David was, surprisingly, my favourite character. I think this was largely due to the fact that he was quite a complex character, who did a terrible thing with the best of intentions.