“Malignant Memory” by Barbara L.Paterson is a novel that is based on true events, many of which the author learned about in the course of her career. As such, I found this to be an interesting insight into the lives of young people who were unfortunate to be brought up in orphanages or who had to attend residential schools because of their ethnicity in the first part of the 20th century. Many of the stories told by characters in the novel were horrifying to say the least.
The novel is told through the eyes of Elizabeth, who is a “secret keeper”. Over her lifetime, she has been told many secrets, which she has kept, but there was one that had caused her anguish. This is the malignant memory which she hopes to expunge by telling it to us, her readers.
In order for us to understand this secret and why it has had such an effect on her, she feels the need to tell us of her life. Her early days were spent on a farm with her parents and brothers, but she was sent to live with her little known grandmother, Andy. This was to enable her to have a good education. Life was not easy for Elizabeth. Her grandmother, who was highly thought of in the town, was subject to uncontrollable rages – “the furies”- in which she would physically and verbally abuse her granddaughter. Eventually, with the help of some of the people who lived nearby and knew of Andy’s history growing up in an orphanage, Elizabeth and Andy worked at overcoming the traumatic experiences that they had and were suffering.
Towards the end of the book, after meeting several others who played significant roles in Elizabeth’s life, we are told what the malignant memory is and what she has learned about herself and others by disclosing the memory to her readers.
Although written in the form of a fictional memoir, with little dialogue, I did not become bored. As well as revealing some of the abuse suffered by the vulnerable, it also provided food for thought about grief, acceptance and being judgemental. All in all, an interesting novel that I am glad I have read.
I would like to thank NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review “Malignant Memory”.
About the author:
Dr. Barbara Paterson was an adult before she discovered that her dearly beloved grandmother had grown up in an orphanage. This information helped her to make sense of the uncontrollable rages that her grandmother often experienced. Later, in her work as a nurse with residential school survivors and people who experience devastating illnesses, she recognized that the ravages of extreme grief are often revealed in behaviors that are harmful to the suffering person and to those around him or her.
Dr. Paterson has an interdisciplinary doctorate in nursing, psychology and education, as well as a master’s degree in post-secondary education. She served as a professor at the University of Manitoba, the University of British Columbia, the University of New Brunswick, and Thompson River University until her retirement in 2013.
Dr. Paterson is the recipient of several prestigious awards, such as the 3M Teaching Excellence Award, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and Canada’s Most Powerful Women Award for her work as a university educator and her research on chronic illness. Dr. Paterson speaks frequently on topics of education, health and Canada’s aboriginal people, and has been featured on top media outlets like CBC Radio and in more than one hundred scholarly journals. She lives outside Winnipeg, Manitoba.