Award-winning poet Jeanne Murray Walker tells an extraordinarily wise, witty, and quietly wrenching tale of her mother’s long passage into dementia. This powerful story explores parental love, profound grief, and the unexpected consolation of memory. While Walker does not flinch from the horrors of “the ugly twins, aging and death,” her eye for the apt image provides a window into unexpected joy and humor even during the darkest days.
This is a multi-layered narrative of generations, faith, and friendship. As Walker leans in to the task of caring for her mother, their relationship unexpectedly deepens and becomes life-giving. Her mother’s memory, which more and more dwells in the distant past, illuminates Walker’s own childhood. She rediscovers and begins to understand her own past, as well as to enter more fully into her mother’s final years.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY is not only a personal journey made public in the most engaging, funny, and revealing way possible, here is a story of redemption for anyone who is caring for or expecting to care for ill and aging parents-and for all the rest of us as well.
(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)
* * *
The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’shas been in my to be read stack for far too long. Personal family matters perhaps caused me to keep shoving it to the lower depths of the book pile. For some reason, a few days ago I decided it was time to dig in and read this memoir by Jeanne Murray Walker.
Despite the heaviness of the subject — dementia and Alzheimer’s — Walker has woven family experiences, stories and the deterioration of her mother’s memory with a thread of humor and wit that is not disparaging to anyone in her memoir and which lightens many moments for her readers. These diseases are difficult ones to read about, but here the author has used the differing opinions of two generations on current issues to recreate memories that have long since slipped away.
To say I loved this book is easy despite having just lost a family member to a vicious and rarely heard of form of dementia. Jeanne Murray Walker has taken the gradual slipping away of her mother and created a dance between the two women and Walker’s sister that transforms the role of caregiver into something almost magical. She reminds us that we’re all going to travel this road, if not specifically, tangentially. Each of us will lose something with the passing years and waging a battle against whatever that loss is, we will become defiant, at times irrational, and most of all, angry.
Walker has mastered her story so well that her reader is swept up into the action, characters, and momentum immediately. I had a constant battle with putting this book down to get something else done.
Kudos to Jeanne Murray Walker on a stellar depiction of life in the changing roles of generations in order for the usually cared for child to become the one caring for a parent and vice versa.
I highly recommend this book for anyone caring for someone else, whether it is a parent, other family member, or a friend. Walker’s snapshots of the difficult times will make you see that despite these, there will also be moments of sunshine and laughter, and most importantly, the regeneration of memories shared with this person years and years ago.
* * *
Meet Jeanne Murray Walker:
Jeanne Murray Walker’s poems and essays have appeared in seven books as well as many periodicals, including Poetry, The Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Image, The Atlantic Monthly, and Best American Poetry. Among her awards are an NEA Fellowship, eight Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships, and a Pew Fellowship in The Arts. She is Professor of English at The University of Delaware as well as a mentor in the Seattle Pacific University Low Residency MFA Program. In her spare time Jeanne gardens, cooks, and travels.
Check out Jeanne’s website at http://www.jeannemurraywalker.com/.
(Image and bio via Goodreads)
Publisher: Center Street
Published: September 3rd 2013
Kindle Edition: 368 pages
I received a copy of The Geography of Memory from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. The opinions expressed here are solely my own.