From the book jacket: On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is
forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly
healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's
syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a
split second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks the
nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret.
But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into
another city to raise the child herself. So begins this beautifully told story
that unfolds over a quarter of a century in which these two families, ignorant
of each other, are yet bound by David Henry's fateful decision that long-ago
Comment: It could be easy to cast David as the bad guy in Edwards's first novel, after all he's the one who rejects his daughter in a split second decision that will impact every member of his family, more than he could have imagined, but Edwards makes sure that we see his decision in the context of the times and also his personal experience - losing his own sister at the age of 12. The irony in The Memory Keeper's Daughter lies in the depiction of the parallel lives the two families lead - on the one hand, the picture perfect family of three distanced from each other by the secret that only David knows; and the other, the tale of Caroline, the nurse, who cannot bring herself to take the baby and instead raises her as her own - a single-mother with a disabled daughter who manage to find happiness despite facing a largely unsympathetic world and an inflexible school system.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter is not without faults - it is a little syrupy at times and Edwards is challenged to maintain the impact of her opening pages, but it is still a very good first novel and one that would make for good discussion in a book group.
About the author: This is Edwards's first novel following her short story collection, The Secrets of a Fire King" In the interview at BookBrowse, she explains that the initial idea for The Memory Keeper's Daughter came to her after being told a true story by the pastor of her church about a man who'd discovered, late in life, that his brother had been born with Downs Syndrome, placed in an institution at birth, and kept a secret from his family, even from his own mother, all his life, and died in the same institute, unknown. She says she was struck by the story but it was many years before she decided to write it. Her decision was triggered when she ran a writing workshop for adults with mental challenges which left a deep impression on her. She is currently working on a novel currently titled The Dream Master, set in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York where she grew up.
This review is from the June 1, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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