Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)'s Reviews > The Memory Police

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-asia

See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

I previously loved reading a collection of Yoko Ogawa's short stories, Revenge, so enthusiastically grabbed my copy of The Memory Police when it appeared on NetGalley. The novel was first published in Japanese twenty-five years ago and has only just been translated into English - an amazingly good job by the talented Stephen Snyder. The Memory Police is the novel that I had hoped If Cats Disappeared From The World would be - dark, mysterious, and, actual impossibility aside, scarily real.



Ogawa vividly portrays a science fiction dystopia where an island people have grown so used to abruptly being deprived of things that the loss of something more barely provokes a comment. Once deemed Disappeared, any surviving examples of an item are swiftly, voluntarily destroyed by the populace and once out of sight, these items are soon out of mind. The hatmaker retrains as an umbrella maker when hats Disappear. The ferryman is employed as a night watchman when boats Disappear. The words themselves quietly fade from the language and, soon, most people are rarely even aware they have lost anything at all. Except for those few unfortunates who find themselves genetically incapable of simply forgetting. These individuals who tempt danger by hiding Disappeared things are the prey of the Memory Police. Anyone caught also Disappears - dragged from their homes while their neighbours look the other way.



I couldn't help but think of Anne Frank's Diary while reading The Memory Police. I saw clear parallels with 1940s stories of hidden Jews and with the present-day re-emergence of fascist ideologies not only in authoritarian declarations of what is and is not considered acceptable to this society, but, more importantly, in the way most of the people seemed incapable of raising themselves to any form of resistance. Everything they had known was gradually being taken from them, but the prevailing wisdom was to make do and manage without, not to draw unwelcome attention to oneself, not to make a fuss.



The Memory Police is a superb depiction of human behaviour and manipulation. I loved the authenticity of Ogawa's characters. I could understand and empathise with all their actions and frequently found myself questioning how I might also react under those circumstances. I was completely enthralled from start to finish. There is an element of a fairytale to the storytelling style with the unnamed people on an unnamed wintry island. Aspects of their culture are recognisably Japanese, but this could be anyone anywhere. It's a haunting fable of how we construct our identities. How much of ourselves is determined by our memories? How free are we really if everything available to us is determined by someone else?
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Reading Progress

August 13, 2019 – Started Reading
August 13, 2019 – Shelved
August 13, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
August 16, 2019 – Shelved as: fiction-asia
August 16, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca Reviews Great review Stephanie Jane! I want to get more into reading Japanese authors and this book looks so interesting. Of the two you've read from her, do you prefer this one or the short story collection?


Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits) Rebecca wrote: "Great review Stephanie Jane! I want to get more into reading Japanese authors and this book looks so interesting. Of the two you've read from her, do you prefer this one or the short story collection?"

Difficult question! The short story collection was lighter than The Memory Police so might be the more accessible choice, but I'm just so full of enthusiasm for The Memory Police right now!

I love Japanese novels and have reviewed quite a few others on Literary Flits. If you're interested, this link will show the blog posts:
http://litflits.blogspot.com/search/l...?

And I'd love to see your recommendations too :-)


message 3: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca Reviews Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits) wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "Great review Stephanie Jane! I want to get more into reading Japanese authors and this book looks so interesting. Of the two you've read from her, do you prefer this one or the shor..."

Thank you so much! I think I'll look into finding the short story collection first because I find that I'm having trouble these days committing to longer works.

Sadly, I do not have any Japanese author recommendations because this is a very new project for me. I read too many Western books and I'd like to learn about other places and cultures.

Thank you so much for the link! I'm definitely seeing many books to add to my TBR list!


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