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Memoirs of a Polar Bear

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3.41  ·  Rating details ·  2,245 ratings  ·  358 reviews
Memoirs of a Polar Bear stars three generations of talented writers and performers―who happen to be polar bears.

Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in
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Paperback, 252 pages
Published November 8th 2016 by New Directions (first published 2014)
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Average rating 3.41  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,245 ratings  ·  358 reviews


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Callum McAllister
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Polar bears, Cold War era East German setting, beautiful language. Ticks all the boxes.

Favourite thing was how a lot of the time it was basically a normal story except the main characters happened to be polar bears -- which also seemed to be inconsequential information most of the time. It was like they'd have to occasionally be like "well it's quite warm in Germany because I'm a polar bear" and the other characters would be all "huh, life is confounding".
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Akylina
Review at The Literary Sisters.

Yoko Tawada is a Japanese author who, in her early twenties, moved to Germany in order to study and has been living there since. A rather prolific author, Tawada writes in both German and Japanese and her works are steadily becoming more and more known worldwide. As a Japanese woman living in Europe, the perspective she offers through her writing is truly unique and very fascinating, as it perfectly captures the feelings of expats without becoming overly dramatic.

M
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Baba
A saga of three generations of a famiy, with a fair bit of magical realism thrown in; and when I say three generations, I should clarify - three generations of polar bears! Each generation gets a first person (bear or human) narrated chapter; the grandmother, who is famous for writing her biography but has to defect from the Eastern Bloc; her daughter Tosca, a circus performer; and her son Knut raised and located at the Berlin Zoo!

With the first chapter, and possibly also the second, having unre
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Anne
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Such a strange and peculiar book. I loved Part 1 best of all, it read like an extended metaphor and political commentary on humanity. Part 2 was like some strange fever dream, with some wonderfully striking passages, but Part 3 was just sad. Overall though, I enjoyed this book. Polar bear narrators for the win!
Alwynne
Yoko Tawada's novel's inspired by the real-life Knut, a polar bear displayed in a Berlin Zoo, who became a brief sensation when he was introduced to the public as a cub in 2006. Yoko Tawada imagines a history and a lineage leading up to Knut’s birth. Her novel’s in three sections: the first deals with Knut’s nameless grandmother, the second his mother Tosca and finally Knut. I found the idea of Knut having a family history very appealing, usually animal’s ancestors are only considered relevant w ...more
Ally
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Trying to categorize, or even fully understand, MEMOIRS OF A POLAR BEAR is an exercise in frustration and futility. On the surface (and on the back cover) it is advertised as the fictional memoirs of three generations in a family of polar bears. However, what is really going on is far stranger, more complex, and more muddled than I ever anticipated.

Despite the straightforwardness of the premise - fictional memoirs of polar bears - I found the actual story very difficult to make sense of. It is
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Rachel (Kalanadi)
Sep 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: translated
I suppose this contains a lot of veiled commentary. Take real people and make them polar bears or take polar bears and give them inconsistent human abilities for... some reason. This was very illogical and very contradictory. I try to rationalize everything I read, so magical realism does not work so well for me.

Really it's how contradictory the story could be that left me scratching my head. What's the use of establishing a fact like "This polar bear can talk" then wiping it to say "it can't co
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Antonio Delgado
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Mesmerizing! Tawada's surrealistic novel explores human rights and animal rights, and what defines being human or an animal toward an understanding of our interconnected relationship as inhabitants of this planet. ...more
Lynn
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: review, dnf
I try to be fair in my reviews but sometimes I can't find a single nice thing to say about a book. The story was so unclear that all I could focus on was how confused I am.

At first I thought it was just hard to understand because you're suddenly immersed in the world of a polar bear. The further I got into the book, I realized that no, the story contradicts itself over and over.

The grandmother's (I don't even remember her name) story was centered around her experiences as a polar bear writing h
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Ms.pegasus
Feb 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: review in THE ECONOMIST
Gabriel García Márquez once wrote about the publication of his first story. He left it with the receptionist at El Espectador, too abashed to meet directly with the editor Eduardo Zalamea. Two weeks later he chanced to discover his story featured prominently in the publication. Elated, he desperately searched in vain for five centavos in order to purchase a copy. His dejection was alleviated only by the last minute acquisition of a cast-off copy of El Espectador begged from a stranger who was do ...more
Cheryl
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
I won this as a prize for the winter readathon at my library, and it does look interesting enough to read, so ok.

Read at the most superficial level, the blurb reminds me of the picturebook stories about Larry, Irving, and Muktuk by Daniel Pinkwater. The cover reminds me very superficially of The Night Circus. But of course I'll try to read it for its own merits, whenever I get around to it.
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Ok done.
Ambitious... almost succeeds.
Seems original, no doubt, to some readers, but I was r
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Toria
Mar 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I reread this in preparation for another book by Yoko Tawada being available in my Libby app. This story with the polar was somewhat absurd but absolutely beautiful and lyrical. It was such an interesting story following the bears and it had a special feeling about the story I never felt before
Saar The Book owl
Feb 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: stalk-an-author
The book is divided in 3 stories about 3 generations of polar bears. I've never read a book from the point of a polar bear, that makes it interesting. As expected the bears have human qualities, but the addition to the stories are that they think like humans and are critisizing humanity and the world itself.
The 3 generations are very talented: writers, circus artists and writers are each telling their own story. The first polar bear is a grandmother who was a former circus artist, who accidental
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Ferris
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Three generations of a Polar bear family, each living in close proximity to humans, must try to make sense of an unnatural life. Definitely a unique plot written in marvelous prose, which frequently made me chuckle. Tawada is able to illustrate and point out many of the idiosyncrasies, inconsistencies, and absurdities of human cultures compared to life in the natural world. Ultimately, the reader sets down the book with feelings of embarrassment and shame, for good reason!
Leah Rachel von Essen
Review originally published at While Reading and Walking.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada ended up being an interesting but ultimately inaccessible book about three generations of polar bears who seem to dip in and out of the human world and reflect on Berlin as it existed over different decades. All three generations—the unnamed grandmother matriarch, the performer Tosca, and her son Knut—dream of the North Pole and somehow end up telling their life stories.

There is at least one review g
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Vanya
Aug 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I read Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear for 'Women in Translation' month and the with only 10 pages in I realised the import of reading works that have been written in languages other than the ones I understand. My notion of a straightforward reality keeled over as I went deeper into the dreamlike space carefully contrived by Tawada to engender a blurring of boundaries between the world we inhabit and the world inhabited by other species.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is about what happens when yo
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Taka
Strange, poetic, unique--

I like weird, but I'm picky. I only like certain kinds of weirdness, and I love Yoko Tawada's weirdness. It's not the weirdness of Marquez, or of Flannery O'Connor, or more recently of Kelly Link. Not surrealism or magical realism or fantasy either. It's something else. Or all of them combined. A dreamy logic that straddles all those genres, maybe. It's realistic and historical, but surreal and magical. At times the narrative veers toward realism, then veers away to fant
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Andrew
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully written book about 3 polar bears and their lives. If you don't like magic realism or a lack of logic will bother you, stay away. Really though, it's a book about writing and talking polar bears, so I'm not sure why you would expect anything else!

I appreciated that it was extremely original and perhaps even a little challenging. A very satisfying reading experience that was at times funny, touching, and sad.
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Ella
This is exactly as advertised: memoirs of a polar bear (or bears.) The fact that they are polar bears is almost coincidental. They don't understand all humans, but they each seem to find at least one with whom they can communicate and love. Through these polar bears, though, Tawada is able to explore all kinds of things: from the bonds of children & mothers to politics & the cost/benefits of socialism/capitalism to writing, to "intermarriage and mating," to the reunification of Germany to basic ...more
Hákon Gunnarsson
Three stories (or novellas) about three generations of polar bears living among humans. The first is the grandmother that is a polar bear in the Soviet Union, her daughter Tosca is in East Germany, and Knut in Germany. It sounds like a children's book because of the talking animals, a polar bear that is a best selling author, and so on, but that's not what it is. It is definitely a novel for adults.

I thought it was interesting read in many ways. It explores our world, and history through the ey
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Ravi
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very unusual book with deep reflections on the command economies of eastern europe through the narrative of a circus trainer and three generations of bears, an unnamed bear, her daughter, Tosca and her grandson, Knut. The author uses the narrative of bears to reflect on many philosophical and political issues but you can also enjoy the story purely for its wonderful and evocative writing. She really gives the reader a sense of alienation felt by the residents of Russia and East Germany, both h ...more
Ipek
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Power though the few "what the hell is going on" moments. It took me a while to catch up with the story, but once you're through the looking glass, it is magical. ...more
Elli (The Bibliophile)
I’m afraid I didn’t really get on with this book. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy reading it at times. I am not really sure what to say about it, to be honest!
Alan Teder
August 27, 2019 Update
Some further research came up due to Memoirs of a Polar Bear's addition to the 100 Best Women in Translation listing compiled by Meytal Radzinski for August 2019 WIT month.
Blogger Sanne wrote in the comments: "I've done some digging in the catalogues of the Japanese and German national libraries. On the German one, it says (translated the German from Google translate, because I'm lazy): "Yoko Tawada first wrote this novel in Japanese. And translated it herself, the first t
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Liisa
Memoirs of a Polar Bear imaginatively explores the lives of three different polar bears of different generations. Trying to find logic in the things that happens or even to understand them throughoutly is hopeless as this is such an obscure, strange little book. But that doesn’t in any way prevent finding enjoyment and food for thought. And thoughts this novel most definitely provokes! Tawada’s bears are capable of speech and writing, but rights they do not have - their conditions in circuses an ...more
Xandria
The fun thing about Memoirs of a Polar Bear is that it includes 2 real-life polar bears: Tosca and Knut. Keep that in mind when you read the story (I think it's a great tie-in to reality).

3 stars because I often felt a disconnect and found myself quickly reading just to get finished. But the prose gets a 5 star rating from me. Tawada is a stunning writer and uses language in ways that I have never seen before. Her prose is lush and you can just fall deeply into it. Also props to the translator.
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Larissa
A narrative that traces three generations of biographer Polar Bears is a great premise for a book—a playful and somewhat absurdist setup that allows for all sorts of inventive explorations of Otherness and migration. Cleverly, however, Tawada doesn't overly commit herself to the metaphor and/or turn the book into a total 1 to 1 allegory, which allows the story to range a bit further afield than one might otherwise expect and also to dip into other themes: motherhood, maternal instinct, and matri ...more
Jennifer Croft
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic, particularly Chapters One and Three. Brilliant translation, as always, by Susan Bernofsky. Adored this book.
Kelsey
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book was very odd.
brian
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
bizarre and very funny. but the third story wasn't as good as the first two, imo ...more
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Yōko Tawada (多和田葉子 Tawada Yōko, born March 23, 1960) is a Japanese writer currently living in Berlin, Germany. She writes in both Japanese and German.

Tawada was born in Tokyo, received her undergraduate education at Waseda University in 1982 with a major in Russian literature, then studied at Hamburg University where she received a master's degree in contemporary German literature. She received he
...more

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