Imperfect lives.

On March 7th 1964, Dr Henry delivers his twins, and while his wife is under sedation, decides to give away the ‘imperfect‘ twin, born with Down’s Syndrome.

Phoebe, the twin with Down’s Syndrome is sent to an institution. Here’s what the institution was like.

Dr Henry tells his wife they had a still born daughter and a healthy son. She wanted to hold the baby once, visit the grave and hold a Memorial Service…  She was advised to ‘move on’, and to focus on the child she had.

‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter’ by  Kim Edwards touched a chord. 

Most of us have clear guidelines laid out for exactly what can make us happy. Who we marry, who we divorce, who we raise, who we abandon, what careers we choose, who we respect and whose opinions, feelings or wishes we can’t be expected to take seriously (like a child with Down’s syndrome)…

I liked this scene.

We expect happiness to come from success in career, being married at the right time, to a conventionally suitable partner and raising perfectly formed, class toppers and merit listed kids. Anything less could only mean disappointments and frustration?

Watch the trailer. (I hope the movie is as good as the book). Read the book. And think again.

The book is about women, men, children and families who fit, and those who don’t fit, into the ‘fit-to-be-happy‘ mold.

The book is also about some of us controlling the lives of some others amongst us. Phoebe’s mother longs for another baby but once again has no say in the matter. All with best of intentions to protect her from any further unhappiness (i.e. another imperfect child). For her own good. Her sister’s life shows how life is still a choice each one of us makes.

The book is also about women’s changing lives as they learn to break the norms and take control of their own lives.

And about how little (or how much) our happiness depends on how conventionally perfect our lives are.



35 thoughts on “Imperfect lives.

  1. The book sounds awesome. I would like to read the book first before I attempt to see the movie, don’t want the movie to cloud my imagination 🙂 Thanks for sharing this IHM.

    Me – I would love to read what you thought of it Shankari.


  2. I haven’t read the book, saw it many times but somehow this one didn’t get picked… May be the cover or premise didn’t appeal to me too much

    Me – Did you see the video Prats? Did you read any reviews? It’s not a sad book, well, not entirely sad, it is actually a very positive book.


  3. Sometimes the seeking of perfection can be absurdly disgusting. A friend who is a survivor of ovarian cancer, and was beautifully supported by her family both mentally and physically, now counsels those who are diagnosed and must have treatments. She tells me of visiting a family where the husband refused to allow his young cancer afflicted wife to undergo radiation/chemo. (He is looked up to by his family greatly because he is doing “well” in life).

    When my friend was counseling them, he mentioned in all seriousness that he wouldnt “allow” chemo etc because she would lose her long hair ! (His family nodded).

    She told me she got so mad that she shouted at him, and finally asked him to choose whether he wanted his wife or her perfect hair. (That his wife finally underwent chemo, recovered well, grew her hair again etc is history. But my friend is kind of persona non grata there. )

    Who is he to decide what she needs to do ? Whether she can dream ?

    Me – Yes, Suranga and it can destroy lives. Dr Henry is a lot like this man, …loving but controlling (in some ways, and he had his own issues) – and this was in 1964, says the author, when it was normal for wives to accept such decisions… but Nora grows through the book, not always positively, the grief leaves it’s impact…
    I think India is still the same. It’s not difficult to imagine this happening even today.

    I am so glad the wife survived the treatment. Your friend saved her life!


    • “I think India is still the same.” How true. It’s often that wives have to abandon or put on the back burner their own dreams, what they want from their life because it does not gel with what their husbands want, or think is right for them, or it interferes with the husband’s sense of importance!
      Will certainly look for this book, IHM.


  4. “We expect happiness to come from success in career, being married at the right time, to a conventionally suitable partner and raising perfectly formed, class toppers and merit listed kids. Anything less could only mean disappointments and frustration”

    So very true…I think this need of everything to be perfect starting from perfect parents, friends, spouse, kids is creating more intolerance, more number of divorces, suicides etc.


  5. Have read & loved the book. I fell in love with the cover. There was something there which touched my heart. Btw read your last post. You should try reading Jodi Picoult like My Sisters keeper & handle with care. You might like it.


  6. We expect happiness to come from success in career, being married at the right time, to a conventionally suitable partner and raising perfectly formed, class toppers and merit listed kids. Anything less could only mean disappointments and frustration?
    Touche! 🙂 Awesome point IHM…… that one seriously made me pause and think…


  7. That is the worst, isn’t it – when people control for ‘your/her/their own good’?! Shall read the book for sure. The movie looks like it would be good too.

    I remember Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz years ago, with a similar plot (the twin who got less oxygen to her brain being institutionalized). Thought that was a good read too, though the purists look down on it as ‘mass fiction’.


    • Just finished the book. It’s quite phenomenal. Thanks for the reco.

      Am beginning The Blind Side, was also a good movie about a family that adopts a 17 year old. Very matter of factly. He just shows up one day and stays. A sports movie with Sandra Bullock as the mother, this is the first time I am reading the book after the movie. If the movie is any indication, the book should be even better! Do check it out.


      • @IHM,

        …everything seemed too easy for this mother (and the child, and the family)…

        That is called white privilege and it is still a truth in down south in the great US of A. The race and class played a great role in this real life story. Just caste and class plays here.
        Desi Gilr


  8. I’ve read this, IHM, and loved it! It is a story that stays with you for a long time.

    As you say, the extents that people go to, to try and make their lives perfect. One can’t help wonder how people can live with decisions like this, what gives them the right to even think of taking decisions like this.

    How far are we ready to go to maintain that perfect life – give away our children, change our spouses?

    ‘We expect happiness to come from success in career, being married at the right time, to a conventionally suitable partner and raising perfectly formed, class toppers and merit listed kids. Anything less could only mean disappointments and frustration?’ – This is true for so many of us.

    I want to see the movie too, now. I just hope it is as good as the book.


  9. The whole concept of happiness is mortgaged out to approval from others and external indicators of success. I do not know how many people can say they are truely happy with what they have. May be humans need projects to remain busy (read occupied) and feel important or justify their human existence, in holier than thou kind of way…

    Or the other way is making one’s happiness dependent on actions of others, such as It will make me happy if you do X (get good grades, good job, beautiful wife and what not…). I’ll be happy only if you do X…

    I wonder why are people so scared of taking responsibility of their own lives and happiness? May be it is easier to deal with others as projects than face personal skeletons in the closet. 🙂

    Last year I was watching Rain Man (1988) Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise with my White momma, she could not stop crying. I have a sister with DS we feel so blessed she was not born in 1960s when it was a stigma to have a disabled child. She is so exceptional with babies, she so kid and dexterious doing stuff for babies that I cannot. She playspiano, guitar and violin. Makes chapatis and paranthas, rides horses, and power-point presentations for her class projects. She gives a different meaning to our lives and blessings.

    Eugenics was always a project of haves to classify and demonize have nots 🙂 Be it left handed people or people with developmental disabilities.

    We have a family friends who have a developmentally disabled son who they never let out of home not even the disabled school where he could learn some survival skills. Now his parents are old he has temper issues and severe disabilities. I wonder how his four married sisters will take turns to care for him.

    Please watch from 108:20 mins. An exceptional scene from Anubhav (1971)that complements your words, “Most of us have clear guidelines laid out for exactly what can make us happy.” I guess I should have posted this on the buzz instead of the song.

    Desi Girl


  10. I read this book couple of year’s back and it touched a chord for various reasons, it was a very beautifully written book, with lot of raw emotions and very thought provoking. Although set in the 60’s the book, I thought, is very very relevant even today. I hope the movie as good…


  11. You have said it IHM, about the life that is being carved out for us, to make us happy by the people who care. In the process of making such a perfect life, we kind of forget what we are actually doing. I love this review, will catch the book soon.


  12. I guess we are told about the conventional measures of happiness/ success so that we may know what(not) to aspire to, sort of like blinders to a horse. It brings everything down to the least common denominator.. It gives everyone else an opportunity to feel superior about their own ‘on- track perfect’ life and so no one speaks up against it. Sheep are always easy to control..


  13. Had tears reading this post. This is something I struggle with a lot. So many things in my life that are conventionally frowned upon or made invisible….with each one it’s been a struggle to come to terms, accept it, realise I’m much more than my ‘differences’ or ‘failures’. When I hold myself in high regard I feel better, and then I can be compassionate with those who subscribe to the fitting-in conventional yardsticks of measuring happiness. Will definitely read this book….thanks IHM!


  14. I have read this book sometime back, a very emotional one.. its was amazing to see that nurse taking care of the child as her on, while the Doc who made the decision of gaving away his daughter regretted for his whole life. For a moment of happiness he spent his complete life in regret and misery and finally died with it. And it affected everyones life.
    Well it may be a tough decision, but then you never really have the right to say No, to anyone’s right to live. It was quite an eye opened for people who are going for ‘everything perfect’ in life to learnm about the little imperfections.


  15. I saw the movie on Lifetime and have not read the book.
    I cried in the end when the birth mom sees her perfect daughter with downs syndrome with her mother. I always feel the gist of emotions are lost in movies remakes but this was a good movie.


  16. Touching post, IHM. I am reminded of my aunt who has a mentally challenged daughter. I admire my aunt and uncle for first accepting the child as is and second not to blame each other for having such a child. Instead of brooding over it, they started a school for such children several years ago. Now, the school has 3-4 branches and some of the kids who study there are employed by printers, packers etc. Summer camps are held and art work done by the special children are put up for sale. The proceedings are directed to the schools. My aunt says such kids do not need sympathy – all they need is our support and affection.
    Sadly, there are insensitive people who label ‘special children’ as ‘mental’, ‘paagal’ etc.


  17. Yeah, others taking decisions for us is really frustrating. What is more frustrating is we cannot do anything about it. And this happens a lot esp. in Indian families. Wish the freedom to act was not restricted by societal norms and family pressures. Looking forward to reading the book soon.


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