Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

“Important things remain important things, no matter how much the world changes. Their essence doesn’t change. If you keep them, they’re bound to bring you something in return.”

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa originally written in Japanese, first published in 1994, and translated by Stephen Snyder in 2019 is a book with a unique dystopian setting. It’s almost as though the entire book is a dream, a bad dream.

Follow this for a minute, begin by taking a good look around you – the room or the space you are in at this moment. Observe the amount of space there is, the bed and table if you’re in your room, there is probably even a bookshelf. Now, focus on the smaller things which remain tossed around, a pen, paperclips, book tabs, the mat on the floor, the curtains, your planner, earphones, bookmarks, etc. Next, think about all the food in the kitchen and all the clothes in your wardrobe too. Finally, take a good look at yourself – your arms, your legs, your ears, your eye, your hair… Now imagine what it would feel like if those things started to “disappear”, one thing at a time.

I would like to add a disclaimer here that the meaning of the word disappear in this book is not as straightforward as you’d think. I believe that it is probably the closest translation from the word used to describe it originally in Japanese.

Imagine, how the disappearance of the smallest to the largest things would impact your daily lives. Imagine, someday looking at something we take for granted today and not being able to remember what is it or what it does. Lastly, imagine a force called the memory police taking away anyone who remembers all those things.

Reading this novel was one of the weirdest experience I’ve had. It has opened my eyes to the many items in life which I would otherwise overlook. Now, I stop and wonder what life would be like if it ceased to exist tomorrow.

The story is quite philosophical in nature and is equally frustrating. As a reader, I for one am not a fan of open endings or of questions remaining unanswered AND I HAD MANY!!

How does one get selected to be a member of the memory police squad? Who decides what will disappear next? How do they decide what will disappear next? Why are there some people who cannot forget that which has disappeared?

Further, our main character – whose name isn’t revealed – is a novelist, and the storyline for her novel runs in parallel to ours. What’s fascinating is how she was able to envision her own ending through it. THAT was the most unsatisfying and frustrating moment in the entire book for me! To say the least, I hope that my memory of the end will also disappear like everything else in this book.

I rate The Memory Police 3.5 out of 5 bookmarks because despite the annoying end, I had a refreshing reading experience. The author’s writing was flawless and impactful. The ease with which the disappearances were made to be felt and grieved was another experience I would not have liked to miss.

While annotating the book, I had selected a tab which was an indicator for sadness and loss and I used too many of those. Even as the story has come to an end, there is a question which bothers me every time I look around – what would it be like to live in a perpetual state of paranoia, to wonder which item will disappear next.

I read this book for week 1 of the #ReadingAsiaPacific read-a-thon, where I was to pick a book from the northern countries in this region. You can find the details for the read-a-thon here.

About the author

I am Surbhi Sinha aka The Urban Reader from India. A city girl and a regular customer of the world's wordsmiths. I enjoy exploring and living several lives while reading books. A girl who tries to reflect the beauty of simplicity, appreciates the extraordinary magic woven in stories and enjoys exploring the cities. I eagerly look forward to sharing my adventures with you.

You can contact me on my email ->

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