I was quite hesitant to read this book when I was pregnant because it’s about a child who has Down Syndrome.
The Chinese are highly superstitious about stuff like this i.e. if you look or think about anything ugly, abnormal etc when you’re pregnant, you may likely get a child like that.
Then, I remembered a cartoon strip or joke that mocked this belief:
“What if your husband is ugly? You’ll be looking at someone ugly all the time, right? That’s a 100% chance your kid will turn out ugly.”
This goes to show that there is no basis in this superstition.
I started reading the book at around the time I confirmed my pregnancy And you know what? This is one of the MOST beautiful books every written!
To start off, “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter: A Novel” is set in 1964 about a doctor who has to deliver his own twin boy and girl during a snowstorm. When he finds out that his daughter has Down’s Syndrome, he tells his wife that she died and instructs his nurse to send the baby away to an orphanage.
However, the nurse, Ruth, an unmarried 31 year old woman, cannot bear to leave the baby girl at the orphanage and decides to raise the little girl herself. She goes through a really, really, really tough time and even tries to contact the doctor again and again.
Of course, the doctor does not want to reclaim his daughter as he thinks his wife cannot take the pain of raising a child with Down’s Syndrome. (There’s a mystery behind WHY he does this)
I can’t remember the doctor’s specialisation but I know it’s not in acne scar removal
Fed up with the doctor, Ruth is determined to raise the girl herself and doesn’t touch a cent of the money the doctor sends – she puts them all away in a bank account.
What about the wife? Since she NEVER had the chance to see her ‘dead’ baby girl, she did not have a chance to grief properly. Her husband wouldn’t even agree to a memorial service – he simply insists that she move on and focus on the live, healthy son.
I found the early chapters of “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter: A Novel” a great refresher course on what life is like with a newborn baby – breastfeeding, crying, waking through the night, fatigue…
I could also identify with her sense of loss as she goes through life watching her little boy grow up – at the same time thinking about her baby girl who “died”. Of course, the lack of closure creates a sense of emptiness in her, which grows and manifests itself in different ways.
Although the doctor appears to have “forgotten” about his twin daughter, he doesn’t. Instead, all he can think of is her and she appears a lot in the subjects he choose for his photography.
Ruth’s friendship with other parents with special children and her battle with school authorities for a place for her “daughter” made me understand a bit of the challenges parents with Down’s Syndrome children go through.
Although it was a thick book to read, I was stuck to it from the beginning to the end. Kim Edwards really has a flair for story-telling and I also enjoyed reading the additional sections i.e. the reader’s guide and her interview.
Now that “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (starring Emily Watson and Dermott Mulroney)” has been made into a movie, I’m definitely looking out for it to see if they have stuck to the original storyline and also if they manage to bring the book to life.
If you haven’t read the book yet, you should!