Bartok-Mira, Health, Memoir, Non-Fiction, social commentary

#551 The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

The Memory Palace by Mira BartokThe Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

Mira’s mother suffers from a severe mental illness and Mira had to grow up despite of it, which as a person could imagine, made life a little strange. Norma suffers from schizophrenia. She always claims that some terrible thing is happening. They’ll get you. The Nazis are coming. That backpack will kill you. Norma is unstable and Mira and her sister Natalia miss out on a lot throughout childhood because of it. Mira could have been a wonderful pianist, if she had been allowed to continue her lessons.

Despite her mental illness, Norma is a genius. She constantly seeks a wide variety of information and was a wonderful pianist. She passes on that much to her children.

Over the years, it becomes necessary for Mira and Natalia to separate from their mother. Norma gets violent and the girls fail to gain control of her assets. The state does not consider her mentally ill enough for Mira and Natalia to take over managing her finances.

Years pass and Mira suffers with her own problems. Relationships are a little more difficult because of Mira’s past. At one point Mira suffers from a brain injury. As a result, she has to make her own mind palace. She puts memories in her palace of her past. Most of the memories are represented by artwork and photography since Mira is an artist in addition to being a writer.

Nora shows up again, many years later. She’s in the hospital and she has terminal cancer. The women of her shelter love and admire her, but they don’t know what Mira and her sister know. Mira feels bad for abandoning her mother, but she knows there wasn’t much of an alternative. Mira had to move on with her own life as best she could. Using her memory palace, Mira continues to piece together her life.

What I liked

As I have said many times, I like memoirs; I like learning about other people’s lives. It’s fascinating. Mira uses a somewhat unconventional structure in telling her story. It’s still in chapter format, but each chapter is a little glimpse into her life and her mother’s life. Each chapter represents something from Mira’s memory palace, which she needs to function because of her brain injury. It’s different for a memoir.

I liked that Mira was able to become a writer and an artist despite all that she went through, but to be honest, I think Mira probably inherited some great genetics for artistic talents from both her mother and her father. I know part of it was Mira busting her butt to become a great person, but part of it was simply because Mira was blessed to have those abilities. It makes up for a lot of the things she had to go through.

What I didn’t like

I feel bad for Mira. It seems she and her sister never really got the lives they wanted, but which of us do? They really didn’t get the lives they wanted. I feel like dealing with their mother probably held them back from things. Mira ended up in a bad marriage because of the way she was raised. She didn’t see warning signs she should have seen. She doesn’t have children and I don’t think her sister does either, and I can understand why. With their experience with their mother, it’s entirely understandable that they don’t have children.

A woman would be scared that A) maybe schizophrenia would develop in their own minds and B) their child might have it. Mira’s brain injury is an insult to an already gaping injury. She has already had to deal with mental issues with her own mother and now she deals with them herself. That is just awful for Mira.

Some part of me wants to shame these women for abandoning their mentally ill mother, but part of me sees that they didn’t have much of a choice. They wanted to try, at least try, to have a normal life. They never could with their mother constantly dropping in and ruining things. She didn’t take her medication. She wasn’t treated with the proper treatment. Norma is a product of a time when mental health care was not the greatest; it still isn’t, but it’s a heck of a lot better than shock therapy.

If you are dealing with a mentally ill person and they refuse treatment over and over and over again, what choice do you have but to leave them? Your only options are to stay and let this person continue to ruin your life or leave. Sure, you can spout all that stuff about blood being thicker than water and in sickness and in health, but a person has to draw a line somewhere. You can’t destroy yourself for the sake of someone else.


I would not have wanted to be in Mira’s shows for any reason. Mira is a stronger person than I am in many ways.

Weigh In

If you had been in Mira’s shoes, would you have left your mother?

Do you think Mira is doing well despite what she has gone through?


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