THE MEMORY POLICE by Yoko Ogawa

From the Jacket

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.

My Thoughts

I’ve been hanging on to my copy of THE MEMORY POLICE for months, and with all the buzz surrounding it recently, I decided it was finally time to give Ogawa a whirl!  I’ve been in the mood for dystopian fiction lately given the current global climate, and a novel inspired by George Orwell sounded absolutely perfect!  Ogawa’s novel was first published in Japan in 1994, and was translated to English last summer; since then, it’s been a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, and just last week made the shortlist for the 2020 International Booker Prize.

“Memories are a lot tougher than you might think.  Just like the hearts that hold them.”

I feel like I can hardly wrap my head around everything Ogawa is trying to say with THE MEMORY POLICE- maybe because I’m having a hard time focusing on anything right now, or maybe because Ogawa is just that good (most likely a combination of both).  The book takes place on an unnamed island on which everyday objects begin to “disappear” from one’s consciousness, then literally are removed from view by an outside force called, yes- the Memory Police.  As more and more things disappear, our main character loses bits and pieces of herself and her life until hardly anything remains.  Through these disappearances, Ogawa and our main character question so much about what is important in life and how long we can go on living when we feel our own selves disappearing.

“We’re all going to die anyway, someday, so what’s the difference?  We simply have to leave things to fate.”

Yoko Ogawa’s THE MEMORY POLICE is a powerful meditation on the power of memory and the problem of identity in an environment of surveillance.  It’s one of those books that will stay with you for a while; I finished it days ago and am still reeling over the ending!!  If you’re willing to overlook a slight pacing issue (the middle does get a bit boring) in return for a stunning, thought-provoking story, I can’t recommend this book enough.

Further Reading

“How ‘The Memory Police’ Makes You See” by Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker
“Book of the Month: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa” by Peter Rubin, WIRED

6 Comments

  1. Literary Elephant

    Great review! This is definitely a thought-provoking read; even though it ended up not quite being the book I expected it to be (I thought there would be more explanation as to who the Memory Police were and why things were disappearing), I still find myself remembering bits and pieces of the story quite often. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gilana @ gilreadsbooks

    Great review! I’ve read two of Ogawa’s works and they seem nothing like the Memory Police in tone, though “The Housekeeper and the Professor” also explores the themes of memory and identity. I’m really looking forward to reading this one, especially since it’s shortlisted for the International Booker, and I’m glad it really stayed with you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hannah and Her Books

      Thank you Gilana!! I really loved Ogawa’s writing so I know I want to read The Housekeeper and the Professor sometime in the near future. I know I’ll be thinking about The Memory Police for quite some time… I’ll be curious to see who wins the International Booker this year!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gilana @ gilreadsbooks

        You know, before I saw your post, I hadn’t realized that the International Booker was also ongoing, almost concurrent with the Women’s Prize! I’m now following it because of you. I’d also eventually want to read the other shortlisted works – they all look so promising!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hannah and Her Books

        I am SO glad to hear that!! There are some really great books shortlisted this year–I’m especially interested in The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree! The IB along with the Women’s Prize are two of my favorite awards to follow along with. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

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