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5.0 out of 5 stars hope
The first time I read this book, I was struck by her suffering, I could not bear to read it all. With about a fourth of the book left, I skipped to the end and read it backwards. Glad for an ending that seemed hopeful. This time I read the book normally, knowing what would happen and not as worried for an end I couldn't read.
The poetry in this book traces out a past...
Published on May 27 2003 by Mindy

versus
1.0 out of 5 stars Beware of recovered memory therapy
Although written in a compelling, poetic style, The Memory Room, by Mary Rakow
(Counterpoint Press, 2002) is a classic if unintended presentation of how recovered memory
therapy can ruin someone's life. The novel rests on the idea that memories of horrendous
traumatic events can be "repressed" or "dissociated," and that people can then recall them...
Published on April 16 2002 by Mark H. Pendergrast


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5.0 out of 5 stars hope, May 27 2003
By 
Mindy (St. Paul, MN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
The first time I read this book, I was struck by her suffering, I could not bear to read it all. With about a fourth of the book left, I skipped to the end and read it backwards. Glad for an ending that seemed hopeful. This time I read the book normally, knowing what would happen and not as worried for an end I couldn't read.
The poetry in this book traces out a past that almost feels like it could be mine. Yours. Any readers. I read a review of this book where the reader complained that memory does not work this way. That the story is ridiculous for it's portrayal of repressed memories. I don't know the truth of that, and I don't care to. This book is not about repressed memories as much as it is about confronting our fears. Reaching deep inside of ourselves, through all sorts of darkness, to find whatever hope and love and beauty that we can.
This book is beautiful. It is entirely characterized by this quotation: "A conspiracy of language gently bending my perception in a more hopeful arc." I found hope in this book.
It reminded me to focus on the things that I love rather than the things that I fear. The first time I read it, I needed that reminder very badly. Today, I'm just glad to once again realize that there is a great deal of beauty in the world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Memory Room: A compelling and accessible read, May 14 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
Mary Rakow in the novel,The Memory Room, explores in an amazingly graceful literary style which is both poetic and prosaic, the journey toward recovery of a woman with repressed memory. The main character, Barbara, is a professor of theology, and is experiencing a mental breakdown because of sudden awareness of repressed memories. What I loved is the way Ms. Rakow used the poetry of Paul Celan and the wonderful psalms from the bible to further enhance her wonderful writing. At first glance, I was not sure of the novel's form, as I am not used to reading a novel in both verse and prose forms, though I do love poetry. But Ms. Rakow's style is so accessible as well as compelling, I found it a fast read. I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a literary style near perfection as well as a compelling plot. The reader is in suspense until the end. I think Ms. Rakow has accomplished the rare feat of writing a suspenseful novel which is also an artistic gem. reader Los angeles Ca.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable Song!, May 13 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
This is quite simply the most beautiful book I have read in the last thirty years. I have neither knowledge of nor experience with childhood horrors or abuse such as the narrator survived. Moreover, I have no interest in such subjects. But to read a work as memorable and uplifting as this is an experience I cannot forget. Rakow's work defies classification. Poetry? Yes
Drama? By all means. A love story. Yes, again. A tragedy transforming what could have been simply a victim's chronicle of evil and unspeakable acts.
I was transfixed by the narrator who creates her world all over again; creates a world for herself of unimaginable beauty and hope.
I thought of Barbara (the narrator) as the woman of Wallace Stevens 'who knew there was never a world for her, except the one she sang and singing made.' And an unforgettable lyric it is.
For Barbara, it is the beauty and power of art, of music, of language--not therapy cliches--that transform her suffering and loss. I will reread this book in its beautiful 'bits' and 'chunks,' savoring it--like a long,love song.
Reviewer: a reader from Arizona
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5.0 out of 5 stars A NOVEL SHIMMERING WITH SENSITIVITY AND INSIGHT, May 8 2002
By 
Larry L. Looney (Austin, Texas USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
I really don't know where to begin in praising this book -- it's simply one of the most moving, insightful, and intelligently constructed works I've ever had the pleasure to read. The author has utilized multiple foundations and techniques -- the poetry of Paul Celan, the Psalms, the structure of the Mass, as well as her own luminous prose and poetry -- to convey the story of her narrator in such a way as to place it inside the hearts and souls of her readers. Combining all of these elements is risky -- but Mary Rakow has pulled it off with incredible skill, leaving us with a work that is both riveting and revelatory, compelling in the deepest way.
Despite the title, THE MEMORY ROOM is more about coming to grips with pain -- in one's life and in the world at large -- and putting it in its place alongside the things that are beautiful in this life. There are many images in the novel of this dichotomy -- Barbara, the narrator, keeps a self-bound scrapbook of them to remind her. One of the most poignant is a clipping she has saved showing a photograph of a cellist playing in the street in Sarajevo (from p.32): 'Every afternoon at four o'clock, in full concert dress, mortar and machine-gun fire, his folded chair, silk tails falling to the dusty road. A requiem for the dead.' In the picture, to the left, sits a woman, watching the cellist, holding a baby that she doesn't even realize is dead, the shock and horror of her existence having numbed her to such an extent that she is unaware. In this scene, as in the world, beauty and horror exist side by side.
Barbara remembers horrific details -- more focused as the story progresses -- of unbelievably cruel abuse at the hands of both her father and her mother. Her older sister and her younger brother suffered as well. Through the course of the book, we see her grapple with this pain, with the meaning that it has in relation to her life. She is lucky to find a gentle, caring therapist -- one who appears to be in no way manipulative or controlling -- who provides the safe atmosphere which is necessary for her to conduct her healing. Make no mistake about it -- that healing is something that each survivor must do for themselves. There is no magic wand. Barbara expresses time and again that she knows her healing must come from within.
There are many frustrations that she experiences along this road. Her faith -- she has converted to Catholicism as an adult -- which was once her foundation, has been found by her to be cracked. She has more of a problem with the Church than with God -- on p.288, she says to a priest, a friend: "If the Church fails to address pain, then it is useless to me."
Barbara states a truth that many hold, that children intuitively know when they are being abused or mistreated, that their greatest defense mechanism, their subconscious, puts up a wall to protect them, so that they can return and deal with a pain they cannot understand later in life, when they have the tools and emotions with which to confront it. When the abuse is occuring, their mind colors it -- and their world -- in a way they can accept and understand. On p. 182, she says: '...in this way you leave behind the world in the condition you expect it to be. Because, even as a child, you refuse to live where cruelty outnumbers kindness. Because even as a child, you demand a moral order. And you create it if it cannot be found'.
Her experiences have left her afraid of almost everything in life -- of love, of touch, of sharing, even of joy. She is uplifted by simple things, each one a potential epiphany. On p.131, she experiences a rain shower: 'I feel the rain cover me, like always, since childhood. It comes down on my bare skin saying, "Stop, Barbara. Feel this. Fell how touch can be".' Her joy in rediscovering seemingly simple beauties such as this is made palpable by Rakow's writing -- and we rediscover these simple beauties along with her.
Barbara is a musician -- a cellist -- who is unable even to enjoy the beauty of music during much of the novel. She destroys her beloved cello by throwing it over a balcony at her home. As her healing and self-discovery progress, however, we see her ability to appreciate the beauty of music, to revel in it, to allow it to balance the horrible things in life, return. She finally reaches a point where she recognizes it as one of the things that can allow her to save herself.
There are many aspects of this work that those readers who are survivors themselves might find to be triggering -- but this can be a helpful thing, allowing them to take further steps in dealing with the pain that has made an attempt to control their lives. The book is, I think, ultimately, one of the most uplifting works I have seen on this -- or any -- subject. It is an involving, sensitive, intelligent portrayal of the strength and the triumph of the human spirit.
I must respectfully disagree with another reviewer below -- I don't believe that the concept of repressed memory, or of recovered memory therapy, has been completely debunked or rejected by either the medical community or those who have found invaluable help there. I thought that the therapist depicted in the novel was supportive rather than controlling -- and, as I stated earlier, Barbara herself states unequivocably that her healing must come from within, that it must be her own work. I got the impression also from the story that her memory was there before she sought therapy -- her therapist was not portrayed as having coached her or convinced her of anything other than her own strength. It is that universal inner strength that the victim must access in order to become a survivor, to allow beauty and love and trust back into their shattered lives.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Beware of recovered memory therapy, April 16 2002
By 
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
Although written in a compelling, poetic style, The Memory Room, by Mary Rakow
(Counterpoint Press, 2002) is a classic if unintended presentation of how recovered memory
therapy can ruin someone's life. The novel rests on the idea that memories of horrendous
traumatic events can be "repressed" or "dissociated," and that people can then recall them
years later as adults -- a concept that is contrary to the science of memory or common sense,
as I revealed in my book, Victims of Memory.
In The Memory Room, Barbara's life falls apart as she supposedly remembers how her mother
held her down while her father stuck hot dental tools into her ... when she was four years
old. With her therapist's help and support, Barbara also comes to believe that she recalled
being burned by her mother on a stovetop when she was a preverbal toddler. She also
recovered memories of her father raping her 7-year-old sister and younger brother and burying
her, Barbara, in a hole under the house, allowing her to breathe through straws. She only
remembered all of this as an adult. Not only did Barbara repress all these horrors, but so did
her father! He apparently didn't remember any of it either.
Reader, be warned. This is not how memory works, and therapists who believe in such
massive repression are dangerous. People do not forget years of traumatic events -- they
remember them all too well. "It must be that infants come equipped with a code," Rakow's
heroine observes on page 413. "Locked in the chromosomes.... Ready to record the marks of
a predator. Timeless. Infallible." This is garbage. People don't remember anything before
the age of three, and little before five. Memories are not held "infallibly" in your mind or
body from any age. Memory is subject to reconstruction and distortion, particularly in
suggestive therapy (esp. under hypnosis), and we do not remember everything that ever
happened to us.
It is difficult for me to believe that this endorsement of harmful pseudoscience was published
now that recovered memory therapy has been thoroughly debunked, and it is extremely
distressing that all of the reviews are glowing. The writing may be good, but the message is
ridiculous. The only realistic thing about the book is how this kind of therapy harms instead
of heals. Barbara becomes an agoraphobic who destroys her beloved cello, cuts off all her
hair, and cannot work. I am surprised she didn't begin to cut herself, which is often a
consequence of such therapy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This poem of a novel hits high C, April 7 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
You've never read a book quite like The Memory Room--how could you? Where could you? It's a novel where every line resonates like a gunshot in an empty house. Pow! Pow! the sheer brilliance. What does this woman not know? Music, art, sorrow, abuse, nature, beauty, love. Terror and redemption. It's not a novel, it's a symphony, it plays the reader like music.
A woman, a professor, has a breakdown and through a creative and sensitive therapy, struggles with the growing knowledge of the horrors of her childhood--abuse literally beyond comprehension. Yet what might, in pedestrian hands been a Sybil or Three Faces of Eve, a 'therapy book,' an 'abuse book', becomes in Rakow's a great work of art, couched in this compressed explosive language, and its context of the other offerings of humanity. Rakow's use of holocaust poet Paul Celan's work as a touchstone for her character sets precisely the right tone for this book.
What I liked was that it wasn't really the therapy per se which saves the protagonist, but the tools of civilization that the character has at her disposal, her deep resonance with music and art and the metaphors of her Catholic faith. Therapy simply provided the safe-room in which the character could examine and reassemble herself. This poem of a novel hits high C.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Echoes of An Interior Life, April 1 2002
By 
Concetta F. Alfano (Santa Monica, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
Mary Rakow writes with a poet's spirit and a poet's eye. On each page she provides a pause, a space for the contemplative reader - to reflect on the sacred and profane.
On the surface level she takes the reader into the world of one woman's tortured psyche. Yet this is no ordinary story of abuse. It is a homage to the multilayering of a human being's interior living. In this aspect, Ms. Rakow's novel is unlike most novels since it does not read only as purely linear narrative. The movements of the story flow in the immediacy of the main character's voice.
The reader, upon entering this novel, adjusts, as to a darkened room, reaching into the unknown to find the familiar. Making that shift, one reads with awe. We bear witness to a woman's faith that her dismembered life can be rewoven into a new beginning, which the novelist calls "a holy place. A new Jerusalem". And in the use of language itself, with its rawness and exquisite purity, she uses the white spaces of the page with a sacristan's devotion and the eye of the true artist.
To read her is to gaze upon the profound and complex nature of what it is to be human.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Echoes of an interior life, March 24 2002
By 
Concetta F. Alfano (Santa Monica, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
Mary Rakow writes with a poet's spirit and a poet's eye. On each page she provides a pause, a space for the contemplative reader - to reflect on the sacred and profane.
On the surface level she takes the reader into the world of one woman's tortured psyche. Yet, this is no ordinary story of abuse. It is an homage to the multilayering of a human being's interior living. In this aspect Ms. Rakow's novel is unlike most novels since it does not read as pure narrative. The movements of the story flow in the immediacy of the main character's voice. This sense of immediacy, aliveness, and sancity of space gives Ms. Rakow's unique style accessiblity. The reader must make a mental adjustment - as one makes when walking into a darkened room, reaching for what is familiar in the unknown. When that mental switch happens, one reads with awe. Awe not only that we bear witness to a woman's faith that her dismembered life can be rewoven into a new beginning ("A holy place. A New Jerusalem.");
but to Ms. Rakow's use of language itself: raw, exquisite purity.
She breaks up the use of the page with a sacristan's dedication and an artist's eye.
To Read Ms. Rakow, is to glimpse into and to know the profound nature and complexity of what it is to be human.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Echoes of an Interior Life, March 24 2002
By 
Concetta F. Alfano (Santa Monica, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
Mary Rakow writes with a poet's spirit and a poet's eye. On each page she provides a pause, a space for the contemplative reader - to reflect on the sacred and profane.
On the surface level she takes the reader into the world of one woman's tortured psyche. Yet, this is no ordinary story of abuse. It is an homage to the multilayering of a human being's interior living. In this aspect Ms. Rakow's novel is unlike most novels since it does not read as pure narrative. The movements of the story flow in the immediacy of the main character's voice. This sense of immediacy, aliveness, and sanctity of space gives Ms. Rakow's unique style accessibility.

The reader must make a mental adjustment - as one makes when walking into a darkened room, reaching for what is familiar in the unknown. When that mental shift happens, one reads with awe. Awe not only that we bear witness to a woman's faith that her dismembered life can be rewoven into a new beginning ("A holy place. A New Jerusalem.");
but to Ms. Rakow's use of language itself: raw, exquisite purity.
She breaks up the use of the page with a sacristan's dedication and an artist's eye.
To Read Ms. Rakow, is to glimpse into and to know the profound nature and complexity of what it is to be human.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rakow's Contemplative Fiction: A Welcome New Voice, April 3 2002
By 
John D. Buksbazen "daishin" (Santa Monica, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Memory Room (Hardcover)
Mary Rakow alters my mind as few recent writers have done.
I am caught in her epic pilgrimage through the nonlinear stations of her protagonist Barbara's psychic crucifixion, and haunted by her ability to ultimately create such a profound whole from so many shards of stained glass.
Her journey back to meaning from the state of utter collapse with which the novel begins is heroic from psychological and spiritual perspectives alike.
The story she tells, punctuated with the poetry of Paul Celan and the high art of communicating via white space on the page, transcends its manifest content: a woman's personal holocaust and its aftermath.
Rakow presents more than words; she deals in moments, in breaths, in the spaces between unconscious experience and conscious recognition.
Hers is the search for the unthought known.
She has given us more than a book; it is an epiphany.
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