Cover image for Past forgetting : my memory lost and found
Past forgetting : my memory lost and found
Robinson, Jill, 1936-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Cliff Street Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 275 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3568.O28915 Z472 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3568.O28915 Z472 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A love story, a mystery, and a memory guide, Past Forgetting shows a writer's determination to re-create her life. Jill Robinson, novelist and author of Bed/Time/Story, wakes from a coma to discover she's lost her memory and just about any sense of who she was. And is.

She likes the look of the man standing next to her bed, but doesn't recognize that he's her husband, Stuart. What matters is that she feels safe around him. As she searches the house for her children, she is reminded that her son and daughter are both grown with families of their own--how well did she ever know them? Can You make up for a past you don't really remember?

It is Stuart who begins to fill in the details for Jill, including the fact that she's a well-known writer, although when she meets with her doctors, they say she may never write again.

Against all odds, Jill Robinson retrieved her unique writing voice, and in this engaging memoir shows how she does it. She takes us with her on her exploration of'tlie connections between memory and creativity, celebrity and anonymity, and loss and discovery. From her first tentative steps outside her house on Wimpole Street to London's sleek West End. From a trip to Oxford to discuss memory with a professor to her amazing voyage to Los Angeles on an assignment for Vanity fair which takes her back to the sixties world of Hockney, Polanski, and Hopper, Jill forges new paths to memory.

In Past Forgetting, Jill Robinson rediscovers friendships she doesn't know she had: Robert Redford tells her stories about her childhood; at John Lahr's London literary teas, she's reintroduced to the writer's world, and Cary Grant offers her memories of her father, Dore Schary. And being with Barbra Streisand reminds her of a time she doesn't quite remember: when her father was running MGM.

In her urgent voyage to redefine herself, Jill asks all the questions you've ever asked on the nature of memory. Is recollection shadowed by emotion? Is memory an act of reinvention? Do people reinvent rather than recollect? In Past Forgetting you'll find the answers and you'll meet a writer you won't want to forget.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

You wake up in a hospital in London to the faces of complete strangers. The man in white you think must be your doctor keeps telling you he's your husband. When you come home you are still unable to connect the dots. You wonder aloud when the children are coming home from school, and the man in white who says he's your husband tells you that your children are grown, live on another continent, and have children of their own. Gradually, some memory comes back, but you have skipped over years of your life. You find out who you are in no particular order: the daughter of a famous former Hollywood studio head (Dore Schary), a wife, a mother, a sister, even a grandmother, and, before it all happened, a writer. And what is a writer without memory? Words and images of the present don't seem enough. This happened to author Robinson (Star Country, 1996), who was left with amnesia after a debilitating epileptic seizure. Robinson provides a colorful, sometimes frightening roadmap of her efforts. She contacts doctors and academics who are experts in memory and becomes an avid student of memory and its loss. She starts a writers' group and gets a couple of assignments. Finally, she returns to Hollywood where it all began, and the pieces begin to fall into place. A particularly moving account by a writer who was told she would probably never write again. --Marlene Chamberlain

Publisher's Weekly Review

An unflinching account of amnesia and the terror of being a writer without memory, this memoir adds a dramatic chapter to Robinson's life story, which she has explored in a previous memoir and fiction (Bed/Time/Story; Perdido). One day in 1992, she woke up in a London hospital, unable to recognize her husband and drawing a blank on the last 10 years or so, because of a seizure. Later, she realized that her childhood "asthma" and several blackouts were attacks of epilepsy. Condensing a long, painful recovery period, Robinson adopts a style that's at times impressionistic but that's unified by fine powers of observation and flashes of humor. What fascinates the reader is which memories she has retained and which she has lost. Her devoted husband is largely a benevolent stranger. Her children from a former marriageÄnow adults living in the U.S.Äare photographs and voices to her. She seems to recall her privileged childhood most clearly, offering a loving portrait of her father, the Oscar-winning writer and film executive Dore Schary, who ran MGM Studios for several years. Raised among Hollywood royalty in the '40s and '50s, Robinson occasionally confuses her life with movie plots, though some glitter remains from her friendships with Barbara Streisand, schoolmate "Bobby" Redford and such journalists as John Lahr. The book's primary appeal lies in the author's bravery in confronting her loss, gamely seeing old friends she doesn't remember, forming a writers' group as a kind of surrogate family and reconnecting emotionally with her grandchildren. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Past Forgetting My Memory Lost and Found Chapter One It begins like this. I am awake. Sunlight comes through the window. A warm body sits next to me on the bed. A firm torso or arm, pressing close, male or female. Not sure. The sun frames the blond hair. Solid presence-stability. Crisp, heavy sheets. This is a hospital somewhere. And I'm in it. Looking hard against the sun, I can see the face. "So, you're captivating," I say, "and who are you?" "I'm your husband," he says. "I'm Stuart." "That's a beginning," I laugh, "and who am I?" I'd like to ask, "And where are we," but that's too much to know just now. "You're Jill. You're a writer." He's scared, I can hear that. But at the same time he's able to be reassuring. "You're going to be just fine." I can tell he's lying. "I didn't ask." He takes my hand. "But you will. Do you remember climbing out of the pool?" "Yes," I say. Can he tell when I'm lying? I remember swimming. I am stretching every muscle to match the drive of the woman leading aerobics before this--collar blade outlined in sweat, thigh bones shadowed like the ridge under Ava Gardner's brows. Am I in Palm Springs? Twenty laps. I've got nineteen. "You're there," I urge myself on, "just one more." Now I'm here in this hospital. "So, did I hit my head?" I don't wait for an answer. "How long have I been out?" "A while," he says. I lean against his arm. It is night. Someone brawny is sitting beside me. "Hello . . ."--male voice--"now have some soup." He tries to feed me. I can't taste the name of it. "You could have drowned," he's telling me, "but you got out of the pool somehow." I touch his forearm lightly. "This is very patient, nice of you to sit here with me." "I'm your husband." "I know--but I don't know." Tears. "If you know what I mean." Here's the next banner of time I catch hold of. A man in white comes in. He puts up the shade. Behind him the world is flat, plain, and soft green, like a land in an old-fashioned children's book. I've never been out of America. Our family doesn't fly. Not since Carole Lombard was killed in the plane crash. "It's sweet outside," I say. "Are you asking where you are?" "Probably." He's great looking. Blond, built like Spencer Tracy, he'll charm my father. "Are you my doctor?" I look him up and down. He sits down next to me on the bed and puts his hand over mine. "I'm your husband, Jill. You're at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital near Tring." Mandeville. That's familiar, I think. "In England," he says. "You know, I thought England looked like this." I don't want to ask how I got here. Not yet. My head's splitting. "The kids--is there a phone I can use? I have to call my kids." I look him over. I can't make any connection here between him and my kids, Jeremy and Johanna. "Who's with them?" "Jill." He's trying to get me to pay attention, to see how long I can hold onto what he tells me. "You've been in a coma and you've forgotten things. It's only temporary." He hopes. "Jeremy and Johanna are grown." "I've been out so long?" I try to sit up. "It will all come back." He's trying to reassure both of us. He sounds English. My life is over and I've come back in an old war movie. "There's a piece missing," I explain. I touch his hand and I'm gone again. I'm leaning against a man's chest. I'm seriously unhappy. "You'll remember soon." Anger is the last thing I remembered before the seizure, which put me into the coma, shattered my ability to remember and erased years of recollection. My husband and I had come to a spa outside London, where we live. We made a pact to get fit, he reminds me now. "You didn't want to rush dressing to go in for breakfast. You were trying on outfits. So I went back to bed to read until you decided you were ready. Then you discovered I'd brought chocolate with me to the spa. You put on your bathing suit, said, 'Forget breakfast, I'm going swimming.'" "So I was the one who was angry." "Yes." Is his voice appealing because it's familiar, or because the tone, the rhythm, appeals to my taste? Do I remember my taste? What if I've forgotten how I dress? It's okay. He won't mind. Maybe. We're searching each other's faces. He's trying to see if I don't remember. I'm trying to show I do. "So we'd been away a while." "Only a couple of days," he says. "It just feels like forever," I say. "You're playing it well." He strokes my hand. I rub my eyes to blank out tears. "After you went off to swim," he says, "I got up and went in for my circuit training. I was on my way when they called me." "Have you told me what happened each time you've visited?" "Yes," he says, "more or less." "What about telling me more." "A maid discovered you in a seizure at ten. You'd made it to our room," he's stroking my hand with his forefinger and leaning towards me with his head down, "at five minutes after ten, that is, you were still convulsing, half on the bed, half on the floor, when the housekeeper came in. They called me." He looks at his watch now. "I came in at ten-ten and you were still in the condition they call stasis." Past Forgetting My Memory Lost and Found . Copyright © by Jill Robinson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Past Forgetting: My Memory Lost and Found by Jill Robinson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.