"The Memory Palace," Mira Bartok's poignant memoir of disconnecting and then reuniting with her schizophrenic, homeless mother, is depicted in dream-like illustrations as well as words. Author-artist Bartok visits Fairfield Library on April 14, to talk about the creation of her book which the NY TImes says contains, "some rare, distinctive and genuinely imaginative treasures.
Bartok's break with her mother, Norma Kurap Herr, a former pianist, came after many failed attempts by Bartok and her sister, Natalia, to find help for her. Herr's behavior had deteriorated into threats and harrassment, with impromptu, ranting appearances at her daughters' workplaces. Heartbreakingly, they were forced to change their names and cut ties with Herr, who became homeless. Bartok, using a post office box, corresponded with her mother during her 17 years of estrangement.
In 1999, Bartok suffered a traumatic brain injury, after which she had to re-learn to read, paint, and do almost everything. It prompts her to search for her mother, whom she finds at a homeless shelter, A social worker helps bring about a family reunion, and when Herr is hospitalized, and dying, Bartok discovers keys to her mother's storage unit where she finds a cache of mementoes, photographs, toys and memories Bartok thought were lost forever to her.
A Chicago native, Bartok has written and illustrated 28 children's books, and articles for many journals. Though it's received much critical praise, Bartok says on her website that "The Memory Palace" had a purpose beyond literature. "I never intended to get across any kind of message when I wrote the book. I simply set out to explore the connections that I shared with my mother, nothing more, and I set out to do that through pictures, because I am a visual thinker. But yes, the story of mother- daughter love shines through and for me, I think I came to understand that it is a very primal thing, one that is still difficult for me to explain and understand." Hear Bartok on April 14 at Fairfield Library as she expands on her discovery of how complicated -- and deep -- family relationships can be. Her talk begins at 7 p.m. and is free. Books will be available for purchase. For more information, visit the Library's website.
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