A Dedication to Memory and Loss. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa [Review]

I chose this book after I saw its recent translation from the Japanese to English was longlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize. Is it deserved? It was also a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2019.

This’ll be a short review as I feel like if I say too much, it will spoil the very few plot threads that move this book along.

The Premise

The novel talks place on an unnamed, remote island where objects inexplicably “disappear.” Disappearances don’t happen in the literal sense, rather certain objects are arbitrarily chosen to be completely and utterly removed from everyone’s lives, including their memories. The disappearances are enforced by the Memory Police. Those who don’t remove these objects from their daily lives and discard or destroy them, face detention by the Memory Police or worse. Some people are taken away and never heard from again.

The majority of the population submits to these disappearances, destroying the objects and slowly, all memories relating to the object also disappear, making it as though the object never existed. However, their is a small portion of the population that somehow resists these disappearances and their memories remain unaffected. These people the Memory Police target with no mercy.

“If you read a novel to the end, then it’s over. I would never want to do something as wasteful as that. I’d much rather keep it here with me, safe and sound, forever.”

My Thoughts

I read the synopsis and it sounded great and original. I was really looking forward to reading this one and MAN! was I disappointed. The book moves at a very slow pace where chapters go by and you feel like not much has actually happened. There is a lot of description of mundane details and actions that mostly fill up this book. This is suppose to be a novel that makes you think about the power of memory; how objects that are seemingly so ordinary become so important in regards to our memories. If we lose these objects, the memories associated with them are also lost and with it something precious about ourselves, our past or our present. I can appreciate this and there were moments in which you can’t help but sympathize with the characters. But it did not take away from the fact that most of the time this was a very slow read which I did not enjoy.

Interactions between the characters feel inorganic and just plain weird, at times. Maybe this is a consequence of something being lost in translation? Or perhaps it’s that formal way of expressing one’s self that is common in Japan but not in the Western World?

Towards the end the continued disappearances have disturbing consequences but it’s ultimate end is something I feel like I’ve yet to completely comprehend exactly whats happened.

Maybe I needed to get into a more introspective mood for this read? For those who are not put off by a slow read but want to take on analyzing this unique take on memory and loss, this is for you.

I’m giving this one 2 out of 5 mortars. Although I didn’t particularly like this one I can appreciate it’s unique take and thought it original.

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