I was reading the first pages of “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” in a leisurely pace. It wasn’t really so interesting aside from the fact that Dr. David Henry, an orthopedic surgeon, delivered his twins because his wife’s obstetrician was caught in an accident. I can’t remember exactly on which part I started to be so engrossed. I suddenly started reading the book until the wee hours while hubby and my son were snoring in duets.
The summary already reveals that the doctor asked his secretary to bring his baby girl to an institution as she was born with Down Syndrome. He told his wife that their twin daughter died and that they only have their handsome son to take care of. The wife never got to see or touch the baby girl. This secret haunted Dr. David Henry all his life. It affected his marriage and his family life. Norah, his wife, was affected in ways she could not comprehend. Wanting to have another baby but her husband refusing to do so, Norah lived her young life as a wife and mother with depression. David’s refusal was borne out of a difficult family life he led with his parents and sister, who had been born with a heart defect. He was witness to how his mother’s devotion towards his sister had slowly killed the life out of her mother. He didn’t want Norah to go through the same ordeal. It was only with good intentions for his wife and his family that he decided to keep the presence of their baby girl a secret.
Norah gifted David with a camera during an anniversary celebration. This started David’s affair with photography. He was actually obsessed with it, he became good and developed a reputation in photography. Unknown to them (Norah only found out after his death), David was secretly taking photographs of little girls the same age as his son’s. He had a folder for Paul (son’s name) and another folder for the photographs of girls randomly taken as a progression of Phoebe’s (daughter’s name) growth. It was his way of keeping memories.
David knew all along that Phoebe had been living happily and being taken good cared of as if she was her own daughter by Caroline, David’s secretary. Caroline decided to keep Phoebe, without David’s consent. Upon knowing about her, he set up an account for her as his way of atoning his sins.
Norah actually grew out of her dependency and became a woman of the world. She owned a travel agency and began to have affairs. All these times, David did not have a single affair and was just silently taking in all of his wife’s affairs. David died. His funeral saw how loved he was by people he helped as a doctor.
What I can’t take in is, the book claims to show the “redemptive power of love“. While it is true that Norah and Paul eventually came to know, love and spend time with Phoebe, the Memory Keeper’s Daughter, David’s actions were never justified in the eyes of his son. In fact, the novel ended without the wife and the son knowing what David had to go through, establishing the reasons for his action. David remained an alien to his wife and to his own son.
The “redemptive power of love” may apply only to Norah and Paul and Phoebe. But I ended the novel with a heavy heart knowing that David deserved to be understood. He lived his life a good man and tried, in his own way, to reach out and be a good father to his son. I absolutely do not agree with how he decided to keep Phoebe’s existence a secret from the woman who carried her for nine months in her womb, but I still think he deserved to be understood. But there was none of it. The doctor was only understood by the reader, not by the two people who’s understanding would have also been his salvation.