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The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I had read several reviews on this book, and was happy when I found it at a camping in Croatia this year. I think it will go down as the best book read in 2023. It is a wonderful story that stays with you, long after you have finished the book. From the back cover.


"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 his 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 story that unfolds over a quarter of a century - in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night. Norah Henry, who knows only that her daughter died at birth, remains inconsolable; her grief weighs heavily on their marriage. And Paul, their son, raises himself as best he can, in a house grown cold with mourning. Meanwhile, Phoebe, the lost daughter, grows from a sunny child to a vibrant young woman whose mother loves her as fiercely as if she were her own."


David and Caroline know what happened, and have to live with the consequences their whole lives. Norah and Paul are ignorant of what happened, but still the events on this harsh winter night affects them as well. Norah cannot come to terms with that fact that her daughter died. Maybe because she did not see the body with her own eyes, she has a feeling that all is not well. Paul, as one of a pair of twins, misses his sister, even if he does not realise it himself.


David was sure he did the right thing. The life expectancy for children with Down's Syndrome, at the time, seems to have been very short, and there were not many fascilities that could give these children a comfortable life or the help needed. He does not understand Norah's problems, and dedicate his life to his work, and later on, to photography. He knows that Caroline has taken care of her and sends money every month. But, as life goes on, he thinks more and more about his daughter.


"He saw he'd been caught, frozen for all these years in that moment when he handed Caroline his daughter."


Caroline, a single woman, in love with David at the time, takes Phoebe with her to hand her over to the institution. Once there, she is terrified to see how the patients live, and, in the spur of the moment, she leaves with the baby. She leaves the city where they live to find another place for them to live.


As the story evolves we follow these four characters and the traumas that one action give to all of them. I don't want to go further into the story since it would give away spoilers. Especially about Caroline's struggles in giving Phoebe a good place in the world. It is also a story about consequences of our actions, that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. It does not matter that you do good in other areas, for other people, it goes down to the initial decision.


"David Henry she had typed already, correctly.

But his last name, Mc Callister, had been lost.

He had never told anyone. He had gone off to college and registered, and no one ever knew. It was, after all, his true name. Still, David Henry was a different person from David Henry McCallister, that much he knew, and it seemed clear it was as David Henry he was meant to go to college, a person with no history, unburdened by the past. A man with a chance to make himself anew."


As I was nearing the end (my pocket version has 401 pages) I was wondering how the story would end. Would Norah and Paul find out about Phoebe or not? Well, I will not reveal anything here. If you have not yet read the book, I can highly recommend it. It is a wonderful story, thrilling and heartbreaking. Beautifully written without putting the blame to any individual person. The way things are in life, we all try to do what we think is right. Sometimes, it turns out not to be right thing to do. But, then it is too late. Or, can a decision be mended?


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