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The Memory Keeper's Daughter

ISBN: 0143037145

By Kim Edwards

Review by: Natasha Whitton

01/01/07

The Memory Keeper's Daughter illustrates the power of an individual and split-second decision that has an enormous impact on the lives of the protagonists. In the winter of 1964, Dr. David Henry and his wife Norah are expecting their first child together, but when she goes into labor during a snowstorm, the doctor is forced to deliver the baby with his nurse, Caroline Gill, attending. After giving birth to a healthy baby boy, Norah continues to labor and passes out under the administration of gas. A twin baby girl arrives, but the doctor recognizes the early signs of Down's Syndrome. Without consulting his wife, Dr. Henry asks Nurse Gill to take the baby to an institution where he believes his daughter will be better cared for. When his wife awakes, he tells her that they have had twins but cannot bring himself to tell her that he has sent their daughter away. So, instead, he says, "Oh, my love . . . I am sorry. Our little daughter died as she was born (20)."

Once these words are uttered, they cannot be taken back. Edwards carefully traces the results over the next twenty-five years for Dr. Henry, Norah, Caroline Gill, and the twins Paul and Phoebe. The reader hopes for resolution while observing the inevitable fall-out of Dr. Henrys hasty choice. While his motives are pure, he can never face his wife with honesty, having denied her the love of their child.

Edwards also explores the treatment of children with Down Syndrome during this time period in America. Is Dr. Henry correct in assuming that Phoebe can never lead a normal life? Should Phoebe enjoy the benefits of public school due to the hard-fought mainstreaming battle? Are we made stronger and more compassionate as human beings when we encounter difference and embrace it?

The writer alternates the narrative among the protagonists, and I sometimes found myself skipping head to the next section in the book that dealt with a particular storyline because each character was so compelling. The complexity of their choices provides vivid scenes from lives full of palpable what ifs a mesmerizing read.

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