The Memory Police
An Orwellian tale that's part allegory, part literary thriller, The Memory Police is a deft and dark reflection on the terrors of state surveillance.
On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, things are vanishing. First animals and flowers, then objects — ribbons, bells, photographs — and, at the hands of the Memory Police, the few citizens imbued with the power to recall these lost objects. At the center of the story is a young novelist who realizes, when books disappear, that more than her career is in danger. In an act of fearless resistance, her editor preserves her work and takes refuge beneath her floorboards. Together, as fear and loss close in around them, they cling to literature as the last way of preserving the past.
Inspired in part by Ogawa’s longtime fascination with the life of Anne Frank, The Memory Police echoes the horrific campaigns of the Gestapo, as well as the dystopias of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. At the same time, Ogawa’s lean and lapidary prose has an uncanny power all of its own.
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Claire Nozieres manages the translation rights for The Memory Police
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A quiet tale that considers the way small, human connections can disrupt the callous powers of authority.
Eerily surreal, Ogawa's novel takes Orwellian tropes of a surveillance state and makes them markedly her own.
An unfortunately zeitgeisty novel about censorship, oppression, and the gradual compression of experience under autocratic regimes, this is a deeply traumatizing novel in the best way possible.
The Memory Police loom, their brutality multiplies, but Ogawa remarkably ensures that what lingers are the human(e) connections.Booklist (starred review)
Ogawa’s fable echoes the themes of George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, but it has a voice and power all its own.
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This is a searing, vividly imagined novel by a wildly talented writer.Publishers Weekly
Hope is a silent revolution for the oppressed, as Yoko Ogawa’s newly translated “The Memory Police” reveals. In the novel, originally published in 1994, Ogawa lays open a hushed defiance against a totalitarian regime by training her prodigious talent on magnifying the efforts of those who persistently but quietly rebel.
It’s safe to say Yoko Ogawa has done it again: she has shown why she’s one of the best writers Japan has; how she takes a genre or an idea into her hands and moulds it into something human, something frightening, something raw, and something wholly new.
With spare but elegant prose, The Memory Police reads like a breeze but carries the emotional punch of a gale. In this novel, Ogawa — who has won every major Japanese literary award and is surely in store for a few international ones — quietly, calmly and viciously explores identity, community, authoritarianism, and of course, the transitory and untrustworthy nature of memory. If you love literary speculative fiction like I do, I guarantee The Memory Police will be a read you do not regret and would go into hiding to not forget.
In Japan, where history itself has been subject to revision — and those who bring up the country’s wartime past can be denounced or even censored — the novel’s lament for erased memories could be read as veiled criticism. Yet Ogawa did not intend to write a political allegory, she said. “I am just trying to depict each individual character and how those characters are living in their current time.”
It's difficult not to see The Memory Police as a comment on creeping authoritarianism. So too is it a lovely, if bleak, meditation on faith and creativity—or faith in creativity—in a world that disavows both. But if you can read it in 2019 without thinking, often and acutely, "Holy shit, this is about the internet," then you're made of sterner (and more blissful) stuff than I.
Ms. Ogawa, for all her fervor, is more elusive. Her measured, compressed sentences seem intended to tranquilize rather than excite. In complete control of the reader’s attention, she fixes it one moment on the hands of a corpse, or the texture of a flower, then the next on the ineffable, fleetingly grasped.
The Wall Street Journal
The Memory Police is a masterpiece: a deep pool that can be experienced as fable or allegory, warning and illumination. It is a novel that makes us see differently, opening up its ideas in inconspicuous ways, knowing that all moments of understanding and grace are fleeting. It is political and human, it makes no promises. It is a rare work of patient and courageous vision.
Author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing