The Memory Keeper's Daughter

THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER

Kim Edwards

This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down’s syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever.

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This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down’s syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own. Compulsively readable and deeply moving, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a brilliantly crafted story of parallel lives, familial secrets, and the redemptive power of love.

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Paperback

Price: $14.00

ISBN: 9780143037149

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About Kim Edwards

 Kim Edwards is the author of the short story collection The Secrets of the Fire King, which was an alternate for the 1998 PEN/Hemmingway Award, and she has won both the Whiting Award and the Nelson Algren Award. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, she is an assistant professor of English at the University of Kentucky.

Praise

“Kim Edwards writes with great wisdom and compassion … This is a wonderful, heartbreaking, heart-healing novel.” –Luanne Rice

“Anyone would be struck by the extraordinary power and sympathy of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.”  –The Washington Post

“Kim Edwards has written a novel so mesmerizing that I devoured it.”  –Sena Jeter Naslund

“Edwards is a born novelist … The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is rich with psychological detail and the nuances of human connection.” –Chicago Tribune

Discussion Questions

When David hands his baby girl over to Caroline and tells Norah that she has died, what was your immediate emotional reaction? At this early point, did you understand David’s motivations? Did your understanding grow as the novel progressed?

David describes feeling like “an aberration” within his own family (p. 7) and describes himself as feeling like “an imposter” in his professional life as a doctor (p. 8). Discuss David’s psyche, his history, and what led him to make that fateful decision on the night of his children’s birth.

When David instructs Caroline to take Phoebe to the institution, Caroline could have flatly refused or she could have gone to the authorities. Why doesn’t she? Was she right to do what she did and raise Phoebe as her own? Was Caroline morally obligated to tell Norah the truth right from the beginning? Or was her moral obligation simply to take care of Phoebe at whatever cost? Why does she come to Norah after David’s death?

Though David wanted no part of her, Phoebe goes on to lead a full life, bringing much joy to Caroline and Al. Her story calls into question how we determine what kind of life is worth living. How would you define such a life? In contrast to Phoebe’s, how would you describe the quality of Paul’s life as he grew up?

Throughout the novel, the characters often describe themselves as feeling as if they are watching their own lives from the outside. For instance, David describes the moment when his wife is going into labor and says “he felt strangely as if he himself were suspended in the room . . . watching them both from above” (p. 10). What do you think Edwards is trying to convey here? Have you ever experienced similar feelings in your own life?

There is an obvious connection between David and Caroline, most aptly captured by a particular moment described through David’s point of view: “Their eyes met, and it seemed to the doctor that he knew her—that they knew each other—in some profound and certain way” (p. 12). What is the significance of this moment for each of them? How would you describe the connection between them? Why do you think David married Norah and not Caroline?

After Norah has successfully destroyed the wasps’ nest, Edwards writes that there was something happening in Norah’s life, “an explosion, some way in which life could never be the same” (p. 139). What does she mean, and what is the significance of Norah’s “fight” with these wasps?

When David meets Rosemary (p. 267) it turns out to be a cathartic experience for him. What is it about her that enables David to finally speak the truth? Why does he feel compelled to take care of her?

The secret that David keeps is enormous and ultimately terribly destructive to himself and his family. Can you imagine a circumstance when it might be the right choice to shield those closest to you from the truth?

What do you think Norah’s reaction would have been if David had been honest with her from the beginning? How might Norah have responded to the news that she had a daughter with Down’s Syndrome? How might each of their lives have been different if David had not handed Phoebe to Caroline that fateful day?