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The Memory Police

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  30,834 ratings  ·  4,373 reviews

A haunting Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance, from the acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor.

On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses--until things become much more serious
Paperback, 274 pages
Published July 28th 2020 by Vintage (first published January 26th 1994)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  30,834 ratings  ·  4,373 reviews

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Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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)
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 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
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! ...more
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
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 ...more
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
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
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read, japan
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,
Alice Lippart
Such a great concept but ended up being a very vague and kind of boring.
Richard Derus
Feb 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
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
“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
Nancy Oakes
4.5 rounded up.

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
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
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-library
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
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
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: from-library, 2020
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
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
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Spencer Orey
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Paul Fulcher
Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Yōko Ogawa (小川 洋子) was born in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture, graduated from Waseda University, and lives in Ashiya. Since 1988, she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Professor and his Beloved Equation has been made into a movie. In 2006 she co-authored „An Introduction to the World's Most Elegant Mathematics“ with Masahiko Fujiwara, a mathematician, as a ...more

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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“Memories are a lot tougher than you might think. Just like the hearts that hold them.” 21 likes
“Men who start by burning books end by burning other men,” 20 likes
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