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

I have made it a goal with most of my reviews to keep from rehashing the plot of the books I read.  It’s easy enough to get a summary from a hundred different sources online – what makes THIS blog MY blog are the opinions I share, and the perspective I provide.  Having said that, I think it’s important this time around to tell you a little about this book.  You see, it’s just not going to be for everyone.  It’s heavy, sad, kind of a downer of a topic.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter takes place during a snowstorm in 1964.  An orthopedic doctor and his wife are surprised when she goes into labor three weeks early.  Because of the snow, they cannot get to the hospital, but they can get as far as the doctor’s clinic, then wait for the arrival of an OB in his practice to deliver the baby.  The baby is coming quickly, though, and the OB has a car accident and can’t make it on time.  With the assistance of one of the clinic’s nurses, the husband/doctor must deliver the baby himself.  Only…it’s not just one baby.  After bringing a beautiful, healthy boy into the world, the husband realizes his wife is actually pregnant with twins.  He stays to deliver the second child – a girl, with Down’s syndrome.  Fearing a terrible prognosis for the life she will lead, the husband gives the baby to the nurse to take away.  His initial instructions are for the nurse to take the baby to an institution outside of town.  Though he plans to tell his wife the truth, when she comes back to clarity after the births, he tells her the baby girl has died.  When the wife asks to see the baby, he says she is already gone, to the cemetery.

The nurse follows the doctor’s instructions, and takes the baby to the group home.  Seeing the terrible conditions there, she cannot bring herself to leave the child.  Instead, she moves to a different city and raises the girl as her own daughter.

The book follows the story of these two worlds – the grieving parents and their son, the nurse and her adopted daughter – as they orbit around the decisions made and lies told on this one night in 1964.  It’s true that there is a lot of sadness in this book, but strangely, there’s a lot of honesty, too.  Edwards makes a close examination into how it is to love others, or try to, despite the things we keep from each other and the walls we build to keep ourselves protected.  I could never relate to the specific situation in this story, but I could relate to a lot of the intricacies of family relationships – as a child, as a parent, as a spouse.  I also found it interesting how Edwards explored why each of the characters did what they did – are our motivations always so clear?  Are they always as innocent as we want to believe they are?

There is so much meat to this book; I am eager to discuss it at my book club’s meeting in October.  As I said, though, this book may certainly not be for everyone.  It is thought-provoking and well-written, but a pretty heavy piece of work.


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