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On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island's inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappear On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island's inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language.


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On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island's inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappear On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island's inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language.

30 review for The Memory Police

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    gotta consider how to describe my thoughts on this one, but i’m pretty confident that a three star is the way to go (although it’s honestly subject to change. u know me, indecisive af)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marchpane

    The Memory Police is a hypnotic, gentle novel, that begins as a surveillance-state dystopia and ends as something more existential: a surreal and haunting meditation on our sense of self. First published in Japan 25 years ago, and newly available in English translation, this novel has a timeless feel. The inhabitants of an unnamed island, living under an oppressive regime, experience a form of collective, gradual, amnesia. Upon waking, a seemingly random item—roses, birds, boats—will begin t The Memory Police is a hypnotic, gentle novel, that begins as a surveillance-state dystopia and ends as something more existential: a surreal and haunting meditation on our sense of self. First published in Japan 25 years ago, and newly available in English translation, this novel has a timeless feel. The inhabitants of an unnamed island, living under an oppressive regime, experience a form of collective, gradual, amnesia. Upon waking, a seemingly random item—roses, birds, boats—will begin to fade from their minds. They must ensure the item's complete erasure by purging all evidence of its existence from the world. The Memory Police are there to crush any feeble resistance, but most people drift along with passive complaisance. What's the point in clinging to something you can't remember? A small number of people are immune to the phenomenon. They, who alone are cursed with complete memories of all that has been lost, pose a threat to the regime and must conceal their outsider status at all costs. The plot, such as it is, concerns a woman's efforts to hide one of these individuals in a purpose-built annex under her floorboards, in a manner reminiscent of The Diary of Anne Frank. Although it's never referred to as such, the room is an oubliette: a secret chamber that can only be accessed via a trapdoor in its ceiling (the name comes from the French oublier, 'to forget'). Meanwhile the 'forgettings' accelerate, becoming more and more extreme. This is a quiet, serene, personal sort of apocalypse, where attempts at resistance are small, and which culminates in the very destruction of the self. I also recently read Revenge by the same author, and a quote from that book applies perfectly to this one: "The prose was unremarkable, as were the plot and characters, but there was an icy current running under her words, and I found myself wanting to plunge into it again and again." With its powerful, resonant allegory and that icy current this is a memorable read. 4 stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    The horrors of forgetting At first glance, The Memory Police, originally published in Japan in 1994 and now available in an excellent English translation, looks like a descendant of George Orwell's. Set on an unnamed island, objects are routinely "disappeared", both physically and also in the minds of the people. One day birds disappear. The next day it could be a type of candy. Anyone who dares to keep disappeared items is in danger. Those who actually remember them are in bigger danger. The The horrors of forgetting At first glance, The Memory Police, originally published in Japan in 1994 and now available in an excellent English translation, looks like a descendant of George Orwell's. Set on an unnamed island, objects are routinely "disappeared", both physically and also in the minds of the people. One day birds disappear. The next day it could be a type of candy. Anyone who dares to keep disappeared items is in danger. Those who actually remember them are in bigger danger. The Memory Police, clad in luxurious uniforms, keep everyone living in fear. People who remember are taken away, never to return again. When a young writer learns her editor is one of the people who remembers, she is determined to protect him by hiding him in a secret room in her house. So, yeah, it's set up like a typical dystopian novel that deftly illustrates the insidious, dehumanizing claw of totalitarianism. And Yōko Ogawa does this very well. There's a quiet tension that stalks the pages of the novel. The fear, claustrophobia and struggle feel real. But she moves further (and I love that she did this), past the political, and into the larger, universal sphere of death. Yes, death. Because the people don't just lose objects when things are disappeared. With each lost item, people also lose the associated memories. Thus, their hearts, souls, and selves suffer losses that cannot be recovered. The young woman worries about the day when everything on the island is disappeared. When the people are disappeared. Her editor, a man who still can remember, keeps reassuring her. Just because things have been disappeared doesn't make them any less real. Even if everything disappeared, the stories would be there. He promises to protect the memories. But with patient, hypnotic progression, the losses continue. It becomes less about the woman losing the world around her and more about the man losing the woman before his eyes. I loved this, my first foray into Ogawa's large oeuvre. Written in deceptively flat, simple prose, it offers no easy answers. We don't know the wheres, whens, hows, whys. This has twinges of The Vegetarian and even The Metamorphosis, with weird, alienating transformations and much left to the reader to discern. It also feels particularly relevant in today's world (and here's where it gets political again) where our collective memories seem no better than that of a goldfish's swimming in the ether, where yesterday's news is swallowed up in today's hypocrisy. Devastating and terrifying, this forced march towards complete loss. In a world where writers lose their voice, where is the hope? I like to believe it's tiny, and it's secret, and maybe it's not enough, but it's there, in a hidden room where the seeds of resistance and memory reside.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ariel

    I still think that the premise of this book is really thought provoking as an extension (and perhaps even conclusion?) to Orwell's 1984 but the plot didn't pull it together for me. I left with a lot of questions and frustrations continually asking "why?" or "how?" We had a great discussion about it on the podcast though! https://anchor.fm/booksunbound/episod... I still think that the premise of this book is really thought provoking as an extension (and perhaps even conclusion?) to Orwell's 1984 but the plot didn't pull it together for me. I left with a lot of questions and frustrations continually asking "why?" or "how?" We had a great discussion about it on the podcast though! https://anchor.fm/booksunbound/episod...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    We’re in a small town on a Japanese island. It’s dominated by the brutal “memory police” who make things disappear. Well, they make people make them disappear by declaring that ribbon or emeralds or stamps have to disappear and the citizens reluctantly but dutifully gather and hold bonfires to burn the now-forbidden item of the month. Some people keep forbidden items and if the MP’s hear of that they will kick your door in and confiscate the items and haul you off who knows where. It’s likely yo We’re in a small town on a Japanese island. It’s dominated by the brutal “memory police” who make things disappear. Well, they make people make them disappear by declaring that ribbon or emeralds or stamps have to disappear and the citizens reluctantly but dutifully gather and hold bonfires to burn the now-forbidden item of the month. Some people keep forbidden items and if the MP’s hear of that they will kick your door in and confiscate the items and haul you off who knows where. It’s likely you won’t be heard of again. And not only do they forbid hoarding of items, they want the memory of those items to be destroyed. Most people forget what ribbon was, or what it was used for, and they forget the smell of now-banned perfume. But some people remember. The MPs want those people. The MPs know who they are and a few good souls hide them from the police in basements and secret rooms at great peril to themselves Our heroine is a young novelist. Her mother, a sculptor, was a hoarder of banned items. Her mother is no longer with us. The young woman only has two friends, her publisher and an old family friend who ran the ferry boat to the mainland before the ferry was “disappeared.” She doesn’t have the power of memory but she’s hiding someone in her house who does. Even more important things begin to be banned: birds, fruit… and guess what else? It’s a novel about the trauma of loss. We get to read excerpts from her latest novel about a woman who permanently loses her voice, so we have a story within a story that’s a metaphor for the on-going horrors. She develops a love interest in her real life along with the woman in her story, so that helps keep the plot moving along. A good story, and I think the book has the potential over time to become a classic of dystopian totalitarian literature along with others such as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. A classic quote used in the book: “Men who start by burning books end up burning other men.” I recently read and enjoyed another book by this Japanese author (b. 1962): The Housekeeper and the Professor. It too was about memory loss: an elderly professor who could retain recent memory only for an hour and a half. Top photo on Honshu Island from thetimes.co.uk Illustration from mexikaresistance.files.wordpress.com The author from smh.com.au

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    The Memory Police is one of my top ten books for 2019. Originally published in 1994, and released in translation only this year, and with a decent marketing budget as evidenced by the stunning cover and many interviews and reviews, it is compelling. Like all of Ogawa’s works, it is also timeless. It may strike us as a novel of the moment because state surveillance is its backdrop. But Ogawa’s stories are about how people respond to their circumstances, to limitations What motivates them. What con The Memory Police is one of my top ten books for 2019. Originally published in 1994, and released in translation only this year, and with a decent marketing budget as evidenced by the stunning cover and many interviews and reviews, it is compelling. Like all of Ogawa’s works, it is also timeless. It may strike us as a novel of the moment because state surveillance is its backdrop. But Ogawa’s stories are about how people respond to their circumstances, to limitations What motivates them. What confuses them. What compels them to make this or that choice. Her language is calm, unexcited. She describes unnerving events with simplicity. Her words linger but don’t shout. Ogawa has written 20+ books and won multiple awards, but Memory Police is only her fifth to be published in English. All have been translated by Stephen Snyder, a professor of Japanese studies at Middlebury College. If you tend to avoid literature in translation, get over it for this one, please. Snyder’s translation is amazing. The Memory Police is Japanese – not American - so our protagonist isn’t the heroic sort determined to defy the system. She is a writer living on an island that none are able to depart. Objects and concepts occasionally disappear – sometimes physically, sometimes the community’s collective understanding of them evaporates such that they remain in existence but meaningless to all. Ogawa offers no explanation for either the mechanism or the rules of disappearing. Disappearing is useful primarily for exploring the role of memory in how we become us, as individuals and as communities, and whether – if those memories are dismantled – we change, and to what extent. Our protagonist is calm. She goes along to get along. As a child, she lost her mother to the memory police. She’s in her early 20s now and a novelist. But now other objects are disappearing – music, roses, stories. Occasionally, people are taken away by the Memory Police and never seen again. Because she fears for good reason that her editor, R, is at risk of being disappeared (in the South American manner familiar to all in the 1970s), she finds a way to hide him – with the assistance of a friend - in a room hidden between the floors of her home. The suggestion of Anne Frank, an inspiration Ogawa has flagged in multiple interviews, acts as a bit of distraction for the reader. R is the defender of community and individual memory, of the importance of writing and reading as a means of preserving the past and understanding who one is. Ogawa is ever the mistress of misdirection. As the pages turned, I worried unceasingly about R and the dog*. Meanwhile, in the moment I missed the forest. At one point, our writer-protagonist is working on a story about a typist whose instructor interacts with her in ways that are at first dismaying, then baffling, and finally cruel. Her story is presented in segments, without any framing. One of the irresistible and confounding mysteries of The Memory Police is the significance of the story-within-a-story. I promise you, you’ll spend a lot of time contemplating how the two stories relate and perhaps arriving at a handful of possibilities. If you bring an ounce of humility to The Memory Police, you’ll remain a little uncomfortable and a tad uncertain about the interpretation you choose. I love that Ogawa leaves us with more questions than answers. In a profile of Ogawa published August 12, 2019, the NYTimes included the following quote, “Ogawa considers herself an eavesdropper on her characters. ‘I just peeked into their world and took notes from what they were doing,’ she said.” Her eavesdropping is unparalleled. Enough to make a fan of a champion-dystopian-avoider like me. *If you're worried about the dog, (view spoiler)[you don't need to. He's healthy and happy to the last page. (hide spoiler)]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    ‘’Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here; my mother used to tell me when I was still a child. ‘’Transparent things, fragrant things...fluttery ones, bright ones...wonderful things you can’t possibly imagine. It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is one this island. Things go on disappearing, one by one. It won’t be long now’’, she added. ‘’You’ll see for yoursel ‘’Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here; my mother used to tell me when I was still a child. ‘’Transparent things, fragrant things...fluttery ones, bright ones...wonderful things you can’t possibly imagine. It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is one this island. Things go on disappearing, one by one. It won’t be long now’’, she added. ‘’You’ll see for yourself. Something will disappear from your life.’’ In an unnamed island, time passes quietly carrying the years of the islanders along the way. The years and the memories. Literally. Objects we all take for granted have disappeared. Ribbons, bells, precious stones, perfume, flowers, fruit. Objects and notions are being forgotten, along with feelings and thoughts. The elders of the community hide the secrets of the past in their eyes and hearts, unable to share them because the Memory Police are there to enforce the disappearances. Becoming more and more brutal, they persecute the ones who dare to react by preserving tokens of the lost objects or the citizens who are genetically unable to forget. The Memory Police want to create a community where every thought and feeling will have become a thing of the past, lost and forgotten until there’s nothing left, until everyone is soulless. ‘’I wonder how the wind could tell the roses from all the other flowers.’’ This is my first Ogawa novel and it proved to be one of the strangest, most haunting reading experiences. Behind the scenery of a form of a totalitarian regime, Ogawa presents issues that provide ample material for contemplation and discussion. What is the significance of Memory? How does it define the world we know? A ribbon is a ribbon because we know its name, we recognize its use. If we wake up one morning and decide that it is time to discard every ribbon we own, forget its existence and go on living, how will this change affect us? Once we forget every gift of Nature, every object mankind has created since the dawn of time, we will simply cease to exist. ‘’I sometimes wonder what I’d see if I could hold your heart in my hands.’’ Ogawa creates a story/parable of disappearing notions and objects to refer to freedom of thought and speech, demonstrating the strong bond between our feelings and experiences and the way we perceive the world through our senses. We see an object, we smell a perfume, we listen to a melody and thoughts start flooding our mind. Without these stimuli, we are empty vessels. And this is exactly what regimes need. Empty moulds that have lost the ability to think and feel. Let us think of our past. Hitler and Stalin tried to create a ‘’clean sheet’’ out of troubled societies, controlling everything. But Thought and Memory cannot be controlled. Not even by monsters. Ogawa chooses not to name the country the story is set in. The heroine and the cast of characters remain nameless. Even the editor whom the young woman is trying to protect is simply called ‘’R’’. This choice intensifies the haunting atmosphere and the universality of the themes. The main character is a very sympathetic, tangible woman. Sensitive, brave and determined to keep the spirit and the memory of her parents alive. She is a human being who thinks and feels, experiencing the dilemmas and fears of the one who tries to swim against the current, having lost her mother and father to the Memory Police. ‘’Autumn passed quickly. The crushing of the waves was sharp and cold, and the wind brought the winter clouds from beyond the mountains.’’ In literary terms, this novel is quietly devastating. Haunting and atmospheric, its prose is hypnotic and unassumingly philosophical. The autumnal scenes and the long winter that seems to be unwilling to leave the island create a melancholic setting that makes the looming threat of the Memory Police a little more bearable. The scenes of the disappearing roses will make you cry. The dialogue is poetic and the extracts of the novel written by the main character add another dimension to the plot. Written 15 years ago, this novel has all the characteristics of Japanese Literature and succeeds in creating a Dystopian setting that is effective and terrifying. Most of the contemporary Anglo-Saxon wannabe-Dystopian writers could learn a thing or two by reading Ogawa’s masterpiece. I doubt they will, though… ‘’I make my living now from my writing. So far, I've published three novels. The first was about a piano tuner who wanders through music chops and concert halls searching for her lover, a pianist, who has vanished. She relies solely on the sound of his music that lingers in her ears. The second was about a ballerina who lost her right leg in an accident and lives in a greenhouse with her boyfriend, who is a botanist. And the third was about a young woman nursing her younger brother, who suffers from a disease that is destroying his chromosomes. Each one told the story of something that had been disappeared.’’ Many thanks to Pantheon and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Quiet and understated, The Memory Police reflects on what it means to remember the past in the face of state repression. The allegorical novel follows an unnamed writer living on a remote island locked in perpetual winter, ruled by an authoritarian gang of police who slowly banish residents’ memories of all they’ve ever known, from rose gardens to novels. Not all the residents forget, though, and those who don’t are rounded up and killed by the police; the story centers on the writer’s fraught a Quiet and understated, The Memory Police reflects on what it means to remember the past in the face of state repression. The allegorical novel follows an unnamed writer living on a remote island locked in perpetual winter, ruled by an authoritarian gang of police who slowly banish residents’ memories of all they’ve ever known, from rose gardens to novels. Not all the residents forget, though, and those who don’t are rounded up and killed by the police; the story centers on the writer’s fraught attempt to hide inside her home her editor, who can remember everything the police outlaw and destroy. As with any quasi-allegory, the concept’s hazy, the characters one note, and the setting vague, but Ogawa writes clear, entrancing prose that’s compelling to read. The newly translated novel was written over two decades ago, and its tale of loss and repression in a land beset by climate chaos is especially resonant today, in the face of a warming world and ever-intensifying political turmoil.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Olivia (Stories For Coffee)

    This book cannot be rated because it surpasses that structure of confinement that a star rating can give. I picked this book up from my library after seeing it in B&N and reading the blurb, “a haunting, Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance.” I was hooked from the beginning. It takes a lot for me to almost finish a book in one sitting, but this story was so haunting and compelling, like a sleepy nightmare unfolding before you while you are unable to look away. Told in a way tha This book cannot be rated because it surpasses that structure of confinement that a star rating can give. I picked this book up from my library after seeing it in B&N and reading the blurb, “a haunting, Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance.” I was hooked from the beginning. It takes a lot for me to almost finish a book in one sitting, but this story was so haunting and compelling, like a sleepy nightmare unfolding before you while you are unable to look away. Told in a way that relies heavily on the main character’s internal dialogue, this story follows an unnamed island full of obscure characters whose names don’t matter because it’s their existence and being that sticks with you the most. The lack of definitive details about the characters and the island itself, similar to 1984, is so striking and cryptic that I was drawn forward to read more because from the moment you begin this novel you know it won’t end well, and yet I read on. I’m a sucker for a good, quiet drama that doesn’t offer definitive answers to the questions I had swirling in my mind. I loved how murky and foreboding this entire story was. I loved how we were thrust into the middle of a world already controlled by a higher being who never makes an appearance but looms over the entire narrative. I loved how each character’s history and existence itself was obscure in a way that didn’t make this story feel as though it were lacking in substance. While this story may seem murky, it alludes to how easily we, as a society, are so quick to forget and toss aside memories and pieces of history to adjust to our current situations without questioning how easily we can let memories of the past float away from our minds. I could write a thesis about how moving and stunning this story was, but I’ll leave it at that. This will be on my mind for years. I won’t let it escape my memory.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adina

    Shortlisted for International Booker prize 2020 This was the final book I read from the International Booker Prize shortlist. When I first finished the short novel I considered my reading experience to be of 4* but after more than a week (and no review) I realized my memory of my reading experience started to fade and my rating to lower a bit. “My memories don’t feel as though they’ve been pulled up by the root. Even if they fade, something remains. Like tiny seeds that might germinate again if t Shortlisted for International Booker prize 2020 This was the final book I read from the International Booker Prize shortlist. When I first finished the short novel I considered my reading experience to be of 4* but after more than a week (and no review) I realized my memory of my reading experience started to fade and my rating to lower a bit. “My memories don’t feel as though they’ve been pulled up by the root. Even if they fade, something remains. Like tiny seeds that might germinate again if the rain falls. And even if a memory disappears completely, the heart retains something. A slight tremor or pain, some bit of joy, a tear.” I feel the same about this novel. What I am left with are faded feelings of quietness, sadness, discomfort, endearment for the character of the old man, anger for the complacence of the people when faced with the loss of memories and later of their own beings. On an unnamed island, people are living under an oppressive regime and suffer some sort of amnesia, periodically forgetting all meaning and memories of an aspect/object. One time they forget about birds, another time photographs lose their meaning. The disappeared objects are either burned/drowned or continue to exist without anyone knowing what they are. However, some people do not forget anything and The Memory Police is hunting them and any person that is offering shelter. The main character, a woman novelist decides to help her editor, R, and hides him away in her home. She is helped by an old man, a former ferry pilot. As a dystopia, I do not think the novel was anything special but it was more successful as a conveyor of moods. I was not indifferent while reading the story and the improbability of the subject did not matter as much as the atmosphere. The writing was simple, as if especially chosen to conspire with the loss of complexity in the life of the island’s inhabitants.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Henk

    Still, unsettling and meditative. Homes in on being oppressed and loss of memory, and how far a gliding scale can go - Nominated for the Booker International Prize - 4 stars My soul seems to be breaking down. I said those last words cautiously, as though I were handing over a fragile object. Dystopian vibes that reminded me of a lot of other classics in the genre I knew somehow that she wasn’t actually crying. I knew somehow that she was too sad to cry - her tears were simply drops of liquid appear Still, unsettling and meditative. Homes in on being oppressed and loss of memory, and how far a gliding scale can go - Nominated for the Booker International Prize - 4 stars My soul seems to be breaking down. I said those last words cautiously, as though I were handing over a fragile object. Dystopian vibes that reminded me of a lot of other classics in the genre I knew somehow that she wasn’t actually crying. I knew somehow that she was too sad to cry - her tears were simply drops of liquid appearing on their own accord. The narrator of the book lives on an island where persons forget items and concepts in a mysterious way, driving people to destroy the forgotten articles when they wake up and realise what they have lost. The atmosphere is dreamlike, or better said, nightmarish. Our main character is a novelist, which lead to a subplot reminiscent of The Blind Assassin from Margaret Atwood, while the forgetting reminded me also of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. Due to this book being translated so late to English The Memory Police predates both. A combination of a 1984, with vibes of Blindness in brutality, while the The Diary of Anne Frank also came to mind when I thought some more about this book. What is a human, is a human still a human when you cut off an arm, a leg, his nose, the ears, when someone is completely paralyzed and has no way of expressing themselves? These where existential questions Yōko Ogawa raised with me. Touching and poetic when roses disappear and the river fills up with rose petals for days. And how would I handle the loss of things dear to me like books and photographs? (And only the corpses of burned books lit the sky) Deeply touching when forgetting gets more and more invasive Try as we might to understand each other, nothing changed for us. The more we talked, the sadder we became. The forgetting is progressive, acquaintances need to flee to a safehouse for remembering too much because the memory police is on the prowl. The narrator takes her editor in, hiding him in a small hidden room and loving him, but never really understanding him since his memories are intact. Is the gradual increase of ever more forgetfulness a metaphor for getting older and dying (or possibly alzheimer)? A cypher for crippling depression? In the end I found this parable of sliding scales of what is bearable, until nothing remains, was profound and powerful and the nomination for the Booker International Prize is well deserved.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    It is ages since I read '1984', but all my memoeries of reading this novel returned to me while I became engrossed in The Memory Police. An island where everything gradually disappears and where everybody is under surveillance of the Memory Police ... Not everybody, however, notices that the world around them is changing, and those who do, seek to preserve what they can, and in this way become the enemy. Even in the totalitarian states people were not deprived of what they cherished: memories of t It is ages since I read '1984', but all my memoeries of reading this novel returned to me while I became engrossed in The Memory Police. An island where everything gradually disappears and where everybody is under surveillance of the Memory Police ... Not everybody, however, notices that the world around them is changing, and those who do, seek to preserve what they can, and in this way become the enemy. Even in the totalitarian states people were not deprived of what they cherished: memories of their lives and memories of what things were. The idea Ms Ogawa had for this novel is terrifying ... This novel was published in 1994 in Japanese, and I am surprised it has taken several decades to have it translated into English. Fortunately, it is available now, and I hope there will be more translations. I am planning to read more of Ms Ogawa's books, probably in Polish,

  13. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Now Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020 Who we are strongly depends on our past experiences and the reality that has surrounded us, so what happens if, bit by bit, this reality is made to disappear, and with it the memories ingrained in our hearts? In Yoko Ogawa's highly allegorical novel, the enigmatic "memory police" is controlling the population of a remote island, subjugating the inhabitants by continually forcing them to destroy and forget things like roses, perfume or birds, Now Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020 Who we are strongly depends on our past experiences and the reality that has surrounded us, so what happens if, bit by bit, this reality is made to disappear, and with it the memories ingrained in our hearts? In Yoko Ogawa's highly allegorical novel, the enigmatic "memory police" is controlling the population of a remote island, subjugating the inhabitants by continually forcing them to destroy and forget things like roses, perfume or birds, and all memories attached to them. Every lost memory leaves a new hole in people's hearts, but those who won't forget will be taken away and might get killed. How long can a person endure when those trying to control their mind eat away at their heart? Our protagonist is an unnamed young novelist, thus a person who professionally creates coherence and identity, who aims to preserve and represent the world in narratives. When the memory police prepares to arrest her editor because he is unable to erase his memories, she hides him in her home, aided by an old man she befriended. Secretly, she tries to proceed working on her latest novel about a woman who has lost her voice - this whole novel-within-the-novel is twisting and reflecting the narrated world, asking questions about expression (losing your voice and losing your memory), freedom (being phsyically and psychologically captured), and death (losing your identity and losing your phsyical self). In all constellations Ogawa presents, I was fascinated by the protagonists' coping mechanisms, which you could often just as well call self-betrayal - this text is also a meditation on the workings of the mind under the conditions of authoritarian terror or human cruelty. In this novel, a lot remains unexplained, e.g. why some people can and others can't forget as ordered by the memory police, what the ultimate goal of the memory police is (if they even have one beyond total control), or who their bosses are. Sometimes, I also felt like the author wasn't able to stringently employ her narrative concept, because how should the characters refer to things after they have disappeared? On top of that, there is the theme of climate change hovering in the background, but it isn't coherently tied into the main storyline. Still, these factor do not diminish the impact of the text, which more than anything is set up to be an allegory. In this respect, Ogawa's work reminded me of the wonderful Han Kang. "The new cavities in my heart search for things to burn. They drive me to burn things and I can only stop when everything is in ashes", explains the narrator's editor at one point. This book contains numerous sentences like this one, investigating the relationship between memory, feelings, freedom and identity. A very worthwhile read, cleverly constructed and rendered with a lot of poetic sensibility.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lippart

    Such a great concept but ended up being a very vague and kind of boring.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 2.5* of five This book is indicative of a problem that I'm having. It's a great idea, it's a very moody and atmospheric book, and it doesn't have an identity: does it want to be a horror novel, a dystopian oppression-is-bad tract, or a metaphorically rich fable/take-down of Western culture? It, and therefore I, do not know. It seems to me that a significant number of books published at this moment either are, or perceived to be, similarly multifocal. (That white lady's dirt book, for e Real Rating: 2.5* of five This book is indicative of a problem that I'm having. It's a great idea, it's a very moody and atmospheric book, and it doesn't have an identity: does it want to be a horror novel, a dystopian oppression-is-bad tract, or a metaphorically rich fable/take-down of Western culture? It, and therefore I, do not know. It seems to me that a significant number of books published at this moment either are, or perceived to be, similarly multifocal. (That white lady's dirt book, for example, had thriller elements but also social-message novel elements so it was savaged by people who would have ignored a "lesser" work like a thriller.) It does no one any good to fail to find a focus. Plenty of works can combine genres. It must, in those case, feel natural and like it was done that way on purpose, to make the grade as a story. This book doesn't feel like that. It feels instead like a pretty meditation on how deeply nasty humans are that more or less accidentally ended up making a sociopolitical point. I don't have any way to know if that was a feature or a bug; I only know it kept me from getting absorbed in the story and that, my friends, is annoying as hell.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    “But as things got thinner, more full of holes, our hearts got thinner, too, diluted somehow. I suppose that kept things in balance.” This was an odd book, reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451. We are on an unnamed island, with an unnamed author and her unnamed editor and unnamed elderly friend. At the orders of the Memory Police, things disappear forever. Hats, calendars, novels. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what gets "disappeared". Perhaps names too have already disappeared by the time we e “But as things got thinner, more full of holes, our hearts got thinner, too, diluted somehow. I suppose that kept things in balance.” This was an odd book, reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451. We are on an unnamed island, with an unnamed author and her unnamed editor and unnamed elderly friend. At the orders of the Memory Police, things disappear forever. Hats, calendars, novels. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what gets "disappeared". Perhaps names too have already disappeared by the time we enter the story. It is a slow read and I mostly enjoyed it. Towards the end, however, it felt too repetitive of all that came before, keeping this from receiving 5 stars. The author's writing is brilliant and I love how the novel makes you think about memory.  Who are we without our memories?  How many memories can a person lose and still be themselves?  It's an allegorical tale showing the transience of not just our memories but ourselves and the people around us. The impermanence of life. I mostly enjoyed this except for the last part when I began to grow weary. The other thing that keeps this from receiving 5 stars is that nothing is ever explained. I want to know why the Memory Police were disappearing things and I want to know how. Neither of these are addressed and it left me feeling unsatisfied with the book. Still worth a read, if for nothing else than the beauty of the prose and the questions it inspires.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    4.5 rounded up. https://www.readingavidly.com/2019/09... It wasn't too long after starting this book before I noticed something strange about it. By page 98, it hit me that for a story labeled as "Orwellian," it was written in a surprisingly quiet tone. Without discounting the bizarre events recounted in this book, the understated style alone was actually disturbing in its own right, and I experienced a sort of weird off-kilteredness throughout the story. Actually, the book works on two very diffe 4.5 rounded up. https://www.readingavidly.com/2019/09... It wasn't too long after starting this book before I noticed something strange about it. By page 98, it hit me that for a story labeled as "Orwellian," it was written in a surprisingly quiet tone. Without discounting the bizarre events recounted in this book, the understated style alone was actually disturbing in its own right, and I experienced a sort of weird off-kilteredness throughout the story. Actually, the book works on two very different levels. The "Orwellian" tag is appropriate given how this novel is written, but there is much more going on here in terms of memory and the self. As author Silvia Moreno-Garcia says in her NPR review of this novel, "If you view The Memory Police as one big, fat metaphor for state control -- and I'm sure many people will see it as that -- you'll probably find more pleasure in it than if you attempt to consider it in other terms." It works both ways; while reading the novel and attempting to tie into it thematically, the thought of what the Memory Police might cause to disappear next haunted me right up until the ending, of which I'll say only that it might just leave people scratching their heads with a big WHAT? standing out in their minds. Pay attention to the novel within the novel, also surreal but telling. Most importantly of all, if you can just accept that things are the way they are with no explanation as to why, the reading of it will be that much more of an experience in the long run. I finished this book well over a week ago one morning about 2 a.m., laid there thinking about it for another two hours, and it hasn't left my head yet. It is one of the strangest books I've read, but honestly, for me, that's part of the appeal. Recommended with the caveat that this is a novel that will likely leave readers with more questions than answers; there is no explanation as to the why of things, described here as "the laws of the island;" they just are. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, I loved this book; then again, I'm very much drawn to novels that I've labeled "strange with purpose," so I'm not surprised.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    DNF at page 34. Great concept, but this reads like it was drafted by a high school student in their first writing class. Perhaps its finesse was lost in translation? The river itself was only a few yards wide at this point, and my grandfather had built a small wooden bridge to the far bank - though it was now in a state of disrepair. But why would someone be standing out there? I turned that question over in my head as I considered what to do. Perhaps it was a burglar. No, a burglar wouldn't kn DNF at page 34. Great concept, but this reads like it was drafted by a high school student in their first writing class. Perhaps its finesse was lost in translation? The river itself was only a few yards wide at this point, and my grandfather had built a small wooden bridge to the far bank - though it was now in a state of disrepair. But why would someone be standing out there? I turned that question over in my head as I considered what to do. Perhaps it was a burglar. No, a burglar wouldn't knock. The knocking continued, measured and almost polite. Screwing up my courage, I managed to call out, "Who's there?" "I'm sorry. I know it's late. It's Inui." When I opened the door, I found Professor Inui and his family standing outside. Inui, an old friend of my parents, taught in the dermatology department at the university hospital. They certainly appeared to be in some kind of difficulty.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    One by one, things are disappearing, and with them, the memory of them.  It's as though these things never existed.  Holding onto memories is to run afoul of the Memory Police.  You want to avoid that at all costs.  The Memory Police have a way of homing in on the ones who remember, and those unfortunates are taken away. Do not expect to see them again. Haunting and surreal.  One day you wake up and the songbirds are gone, then the roses vanish.  You are right to fear what might come next.  If bo One by one, things are disappearing, and with them, the memory of them.  It's as though these things never existed.  Holding onto memories is to run afoul of the Memory Police.  You want to avoid that at all costs.  The Memory Police have a way of homing in on the ones who remember, and those unfortunates are taken away. Do not expect to see them again. Haunting and surreal.  One day you wake up and the songbirds are gone, then the roses vanish.  You are right to fear what might come next.  If books disappear, can words be far behind?  What if forgetting is just the start of decay in the heart?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Prerna (on semi-hiatus)

    Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020! Every page of this book was like reliving the queer feeling I usually try to fight on waking up. I hate waking up, I hate slowly assembling my consciousness and rationality while still trying to grasp those wisps of dreams that linger in my mind like the remnants of some illogical, irrational, gravity defying, conservation violating world that only my subconscious mind is allowed in. It always feels as though I'm leaving something important beh Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020! Every page of this book was like reliving the queer feeling I usually try to fight on waking up. I hate waking up, I hate slowly assembling my consciousness and rationality while still trying to grasp those wisps of dreams that linger in my mind like the remnants of some illogical, irrational, gravity defying, conservation violating world that only my subconscious mind is allowed in. It always feels as though I'm leaving something important behind, some sort of divine knowledge. I break my focus for two seconds and these wisps also disappear, and only a notion of an impenetrable world remains. Assuming there is a connection, however vague, between our sense of self and the objects that surround us, what happens to the self if these objects abruptly disappear, leaving behind just a thin, flimsy reflection in the deep recesses of our minds? We have no memory whatsoever of these objects, but a first glance of them does spark a vague recognition only to be swallowed up immediately, and is replaced by an immense sense of loss and confusion. But in a world turned upside down, things I thought were mine and mine alone can be taken away much more easily than I would have imagined. The inconceivability of non-existence is a haunting theme throughout the book. On an island where objects disappear randomly and retaining any memory of them is a crime, the people live in a murky, surreal state of scarcity and fear. Our unnamed protagonist often contemplates the inevitable disappearance of her very self, her body and tries to structure her complicated emotions by writing novels which themselves center around loss and the acceptance of loss. What I found to be most striking in this book were the anomalies, the people who remember, who hide (and often do not succeed) from the aggressive force of the 'memory police'. Survival for them is a complex play, a tricky matter of concealing their retained memories and intact perception in a world whose edges are slowly crumbling away. Although marketed as a dystopian novel, this book is much more than that. It deals with many important themes: the transformation of a world from efflugent to derelict (given the current state of world affairs, this is probably something we will have to deal with soon), the wiping away of identity, the oppressive forces that impose upon us a life of suffering, the struggle to retain a sense of self despite massive irreversible changes, and of course love. Stray observation: I think Yoko Ogawa has a thing for birthdays (can't blame her). There are simple yet elegant birthday celebrations in both The Housekeeper and the Professor and The Memory Police, although strangely, they are both immediately followed by anxiety inducing storylines.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pedro

    George Orwell meets Haruki Murakami in this disturbing and unsettling but also weird and wonderful story about an island where things keep on disappearing and can’t be remembered. In the island, to remember is to be in danger. I loved the gentle and simple prose. I loved the originality and unpredictability of the plot. I loved the wisdom. I loved the claustrophobic feeling. I loved the imagery and the weirdness and how thought provoking everything was. And most of all I loved the fact that I di George Orwell meets Haruki Murakami in this disturbing and unsettling but also weird and wonderful story about an island where things keep on disappearing and can’t be remembered. In the island, to remember is to be in danger. I loved the gentle and simple prose. I loved the originality and unpredictability of the plot. I loved the wisdom. I loved the claustrophobic feeling. I loved the imagery and the weirdness and how thought provoking everything was. And most of all I loved the fact that I didn’t get any answers at all. I admit I’m a bit scared of the Memory Police but I’m going to keep this story in my memory anyway, for as long as I can. Screw you, Memory Police!!! “(...) in a world turned upside down, things I thought were mine and mine alone can be taken away much more easily than I would have imagined. If my body were cut up in pieces and those pieces mixed with those of other bodies, and then if someone told me, “Find your left eye,” I suppose it would be difficult to do so.”

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    A memorable novel about the loss of memory, The Memory Police is a dystopian tale, but there are no rescuers plotting to save everyone. The town's people who are undergoing the loss of common, everyday objects are very passive about their own ability to stop what is happening. As these things are disappeared, so are their owners' memories of them. They can't remember what a rose is, what it looks like or what it smells like, how it feels. Ogawa writes with a tranquil, surreal tone. Her characters A memorable novel about the loss of memory, The Memory Police is a dystopian tale, but there are no rescuers plotting to save everyone. The town's people who are undergoing the loss of common, everyday objects are very passive about their own ability to stop what is happening. As these things are disappeared, so are their owners' memories of them. They can't remember what a rose is, what it looks like or what it smells like, how it feels. Ogawa writes with a tranquil, surreal tone. Her characters have no real names. The main protagonist is a 20ish, female writer who lives alone and has few friends, she is never named. Her closest friend is an old man who lives on a disused ferry and is always referred to as the old man. Her editor, another friend is called R. They all exist on an unnamed island in which the disappearance of things and their memories are by extension the loss of their souls. The Memory Police are there to ensure that the items are truly gone. There are a few people who don't lose their memories. If found out, they are taken away as well. I went back and forth between 3 and 4 stars, but rounded up because of the meaningful question that the author attempts to resolve, without our memories, what are we?

  23. 5 out of 5

    Neale

    Shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker. The novel opens with the protagonist’s mother telling her that she too will soon forget something. Something of hers will “disappear” as everything does on the island. However, it is not only memories that are lost. Physical items as well are lost forever, sometimes leaving behind remnants or pieces that the inhabitants throw in the river or burn. It does not take long for that object or memory to be forgotten, never thought of again, as it now cease Shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker. The novel opens with the protagonist’s mother telling her that she too will soon forget something. Something of hers will “disappear” as everything does on the island. However, it is not only memories that are lost. Physical items as well are lost forever, sometimes leaving behind remnants or pieces that the inhabitants throw in the river or burn. It does not take long for that object or memory to be forgotten, never thought of again, as it now ceases to exist. However, it turns out the protagonist’s mother, who is a sculptor, has been keeping objects that have supposed to have “disappeared” in a cabinet in her basement. She lets the protagonist view and feel these objects from time to time explaining to her what they are. These items, such as jewels, perfume, etc are wondrous to the protagonist. Wondrous because she has never seen them before, they were “disappeared” before she was born. Her mother has kept them and their memories. However remembering and keeping objects that have disappeared is an invitation to the Memory Police. The inhabitants of the island will adjust their lives around these disappearances. A milliner will change to making umbrellas when hats are forgotten. A mechanic will become a security guard when the ferry he used to maintain disappears. If anybody has a problem with these changes or they retain their memory, the Memory Police step in. Anybody who retains their memory, or anybody who aids them are taken away by the Memory Police and are never seen again. The protagonist of this novel, whose name we are never given, in fact no character’s names are revealed, is a writer and is working on her fourth novel when novels disappear. This novel is paramount to the narrative and Ogawa devotes entire chapters to it. The main character’s ordeal, although not obvious, mirrors the protagonists. However, let me return to the naming subject. Nobody, apart from the protagonist’s editor who is referred to as “R” is named in this novel. The island, the town, the streets and the people, none are named. For a novel that is predominantly about memory, I think we can say that this is intentional. What is the significance of the “R”? You tell me. The main character of the “novel” within a novel is learning to type and when first learning to type letters are typed out over and over in repetition to memorise their position on the keyboard. Another reference to memory and perhaps where the “R” comes from. Clutching at straws, I know, but trying to figure out what Ogawa has written and why is, in my opinion this novel's greatest strength.. I think that most readers will see what is coming when the inhabitants themselves start disappearing limb by limb. There is so much going on in this novel. If your book club is looking for a book that will promote major discussion, then look no further. From issues such as totalitarian governments, police states, freedom and oppression. To the importance of memory, how it is retained, how it is unreliable, how it is vital. I even wonder if the slow disappearing of the inhabitants, their limbs disappearing one at a time, is a metaphorical way of reminding us of our mortality. In the midst of life we are in death. The reader cannot help but think about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust when the protagonist hides her editor in a “secret” room beneath the floorboards. Although not for everybody, especially those who have a dislike for allegory, this is a novel whose story is an ocean to explore. 4.5 Stars! * Having just started rereading this novel, I have come across a family whose name is given and I remember the dog at the end is named as well. Dang it! *

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    There is this Japanese idea of "Mono no aware" or the "pathos of things." How ephemeral beauty is, how everything is transient and fleeting - and the sadness that accompanies that realization. And that sentiment pervades the book as things disappear. Something in the air changes, and on waking the people stumble outside to understand what has been removed from their lives. One morning the rivers are covered in petals slowly floating out to sea as roses join hats, ferries, and birds as the thing There is this Japanese idea of "Mono no aware" or the "pathos of things." How ephemeral beauty is, how everything is transient and fleeting - and the sadness that accompanies that realization. And that sentiment pervades the book as things disappear. Something in the air changes, and on waking the people stumble outside to understand what has been removed from their lives. One morning the rivers are covered in petals slowly floating out to sea as roses join hats, ferries, and birds as the thing that is gone. Soon the very memory of it disappears. But then it takes a turn to the dystopian. Jackbooted thugs called Memory Police appear to ensure that newly forgotten thing is truly eradicated. They are there when novels are disappeared, stoking massive pyres of books, setting the library ablaze, ransacking homes looking for things that should be forgotten and carting away those that still remember. And as it nears the end it takes on an absurdist tone that borders on the horrifying but is still presented in a calm, almost flat affect that pervades this particular translation. It's such an open-ended read that defies easy categorization and that is both frustrating - I mean what's with the typewriter story? - and it's biggest strength. It allows for a myriad of interpretations that hinge on the personal. It is a story reflecting the Cultural Revolution, speaks to Trump's America, harkens back to sanctions against Yugoslavia and is a metaphor for social media and the very act of writing. Or maybe it's just my need to imbue the whisper quiet story with some larger narrative to explain its nagging persistence.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Nagle

    I thought the premise for this was super cool, but the actual story lacked so much. We enter a world in which things can disappear from both life and the minds of citizens. Roses? Gone. Birds? Gone. Hats? Gone. Novels? Gone. No one knows where it goes, they just know it has left. They readjust their lives accordingly and move forward. Well, most do anyway. There are a select few who do not forget and those people are in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police. I was so intrigued by this I thought the premise for this was super cool, but the actual story lacked so much. We enter a world in which things can disappear from both life and the minds of citizens. Roses? Gone. Birds? Gone. Hats? Gone. Novels? Gone. No one knows where it goes, they just know it has left. They readjust their lives accordingly and move forward. Well, most do anyway. There are a select few who do not forget and those people are in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police. I was so intrigued by this story but I felt like there was so much missing information, there was no history provided or any sort of explanation as to why society is like this. The purpose of the Memory Police, other than to terrorize the citizens, was never fully explored. I felt like a lot was missing from the story. I also didn't enjoy the romance. It felt pointless and forced, overall adding nothing to the story. I wasn't moved or inspired by it and constantly wondered why the heck these characters were together. I also felt the same about the portion of the novel that contained our main character's novel. I didn't enjoy the story or felt like it added anything to the overall plot. In my opinion, it was more of a filler than anything else. I feel like there was so much potential for this story but it missed the mark a little bit. While there were ideas I enjoyed, I felt like overall it may have been better suited as a short story without the pointless filler information.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Blaine

    The Memory Police are an arm of a totalitarian state enforcing its rules, so the obvious comparison for this novel is 1984. But in this book, the citizens aren’t just pretending they’ve always been at war with Eurasia. Here, objects like birds or green beans or roses somehow truly disappear almost overnight, and all but a few people quickly forget that such objects ever even existed. How this process of disappearances and lost memories is occurring is left unexplained, and was the beginning of m The Memory Police are an arm of a totalitarian state enforcing its rules, so the obvious comparison for this novel is 1984. But in this book, the citizens aren’t just pretending they’ve always been at war with Eurasia. Here, objects like birds or green beans or roses somehow truly disappear almost overnight, and all but a few people quickly forget that such objects ever even existed. How this process of disappearances and lost memories is occurring is left unexplained, and was the beginning of my frustration with the story. I just couldn’t piece together what this story was truly about. It’s atmospheric, and it definitely has an Eastern feel. But for a book positioned as being about the power and fearsomeness of totalitarian regimes, the regime is neither revealed nor particularly the focus of the story. I’m left primarily feeling that the book was about how we lose the ability to communicate when we lose shared experience and knowledge, and the danger that lost communication leaves humanity in from both the natural world and other people who mean to control us—but I really have no idea. I’ve seen other reviews compare The Memory Police to 1984 (one of my all-time favorites) and Exit West (which I also loved). But to me, it much more closely resembled Blindness, another beloved book—by a Nobel Laureate no less—that I just didn’t like at all. I know I’m in the minority here, but this book fell flat for me.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caro the Helmet Lady

    What a beautifully sad book. Like someone here said, this book has many levels. Some of them visual and some that are subconscious. It probably touched the latter in me, one night after reading it I was dreaming about it intensively, trying to solve the mystery of the titular memory police. Must I say I never solved it. I guess it was an intensive experience. While nothing extremely spectacular happened in the book, there was a certain tension. While I was definitely sure that something bad was g What a beautifully sad book. Like someone here said, this book has many levels. Some of them visual and some that are subconscious. It probably touched the latter in me, one night after reading it I was dreaming about it intensively, trying to solve the mystery of the titular memory police. Must I say I never solved it. I guess it was an intensive experience. While nothing extremely spectacular happened in the book, there was a certain tension. While I was definitely sure that something bad was going to happen, I never knew where it was coming from. And when it happened, it wasn't what I expected. Very unusual, very atmospheric book. An unexpected quiet page turner. 5 stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    Shortlisted for the Booker International Prize 2020 An original and unsettling fantasy, more of a nightmare than a conventional dystopian novel. The narrator is a writer living on an island which is isolated from the world, where familiar objects suddenly disappear under the control of the Memory Police of the title, who are also trying to ensure that memory of what is lost is erased. I could say much more but little of it would make sense...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Orey

    This was definitely the wrong book to read in the middle of a move. Here, beautiful things are disappearing forever and people are disappeared too. It's a horrific dystopia that's one of the worst I've ever encountered because of the intensely personal effect it has on people. Great painful writing about the personal experience of sensation evaporating from your life and leaving behind only a hollowness that you can't quite understand anymore. This was definitely the wrong book to read in the middle of a move. Here, beautiful things are disappearing forever and people are disappeared too. It's a horrific dystopia that's one of the worst I've ever encountered because of the intensely personal effect it has on people. Great painful writing about the personal experience of sensation evaporating from your life and leaving behind only a hollowness that you can't quite understand anymore.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    Now longlisted for the International Booker and shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature Silence fell around us all, as through we were steeling ourselves for the next disappearance, which would no doubt come — perhaps even tomorrow. So it was that evening came to the island. The Memory Police has been translated by Stephen Synder from Yōko Ogawa's 1994 original. As with Revenge, Synder's translation is excellent, with prose that is simple yet powerful, although again as w Now longlisted for the International Booker and shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature Silence fell around us all, as through we were steeling ourselves for the next disappearance, which would no doubt come — perhaps even tomorrow. So it was that evening came to the island. The Memory Police has been translated by Stephen Synder from Yōko Ogawa's 1994 original. As with Revenge, Synder's translation is excellent, with prose that is simple yet powerful, although again as with Revenge the title has been changed in English, which is a pet bugbear of mine. The original translates roughly as secret crystallisations (see https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/...). The Memory Police opens memorably, arrestingly (puns intended) with the great line: I sometimes wonder what was disappeared first - among all the things that have disappeared from this island. the 'was disappeared' construction giving us the set-up - an island where objects disappear, seemingly at the behest of some authority. Although it isn't so much their physical loss that occurs, rather the loss of their purpose in the minds of the people, who wake up, feel something is different and then realise that a particular object (man-made or natural) is no longer meaningful to them. The role of the Memory Police in part to supervise the disposal of these objects, but mainly to hunt out those who can still retain memories. For example when novels are disappeared, the narrator, herself a novelist, tells us: It was difficult to decide which books to keep and which to part with. Even as I picked up each volume, I realised I could no longer remember what it had been about. But I knew I couldn’t linger over these decisions, since it was quite possible the Memory Police would be around to check on my progress. In the end, I decided to keep books that had been given to me by dear friends and those with beautiful covers. I was no longer capable of reading a novel, much less writing one. I could read the words out loud, but I could no longer understand them as part of a coherent story with a plot to connect them. They were just characters on the manuscript page, and they evoked in me no feeling or atmosphere, no recognizable scene. The Memory Police isn't a conventional dystopian genre novel - there is no attempt at world building, no explanation for the purpose behind the disappearances or indeed of who controls the Memory Police, I didn't really even feel the set-up was particularly logically coherent. And any allegories are largely unintended (indeed it is tempting to forget when reading it that this was published in 1994 in Japan, and so it was not commenting on the post 2016 West or indeed the Abe government). Instead this is a novel of atmosphere, wistful, poetic and haunting. Although only 274 pages long, I did however find it a little stretched out. The plot, as such, involving the narrator's editor, one of those who retains his memories of the purpose and sense of disappeared objects, hiding for some months in a hidden room in her house, was a clear nod to the story of Anne Frank, which the author has acknowledged as her key influence (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/12/bo...) but something of a distraction. And the interspersed elements of the novel the narrator was writing were interesting - but could have worked as a stand-alone story. Overall - a moving novel and one that lingered in my mind for some time after reading, but also one I feel could have made a more powerful novella. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4

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