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Booker International Longlist 2020: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa


Book 4 and this one has been read and reviewed by Tracy and Emily.

Details from the Booker Site: Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed. When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it becomes increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?
The Memory Police is a beautiful, haunting and provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, from one of Japan’s greatest writers.

Yoko Ogawa has won every major Japanese literary award. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope. Her works include The Diving Pool, a collection of three novellas, The Housekeeper and the Professor, Hotel Iris and the story collection Revenge.


Stephen Snyder is a Japanese translator and professor of Japanese Studies at Middlebury College, Vermont. He has translated works by Yoko Ogawa, Kenzaburo Oe, Ryu Murakami, and Miri Yu, among others. His translation of Natsuo Kirino’s Out was a finalist for the Edgar Award for best mystery novel in 2004, and his translation of Yoko Ogawa’s Hotel Iris was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011.​

Emily’s Thoughts: This is as close to a perfect score as I can see myself giving out. I picked this one to read first of the list cause i knew I’d love it and I absolutely did. It was haunting, evocative, and disturbing in a thoughtful, worthwhile way rather than a shallow shock value way (hey Seratonin listen up). The parallel stories of the typist and the woman on the island gave me chills and made me cry almost equally, and the ending (which I won’t describe in detail because you need to read this) ruined me. It’s rare to find a book that says something so worth saying in such a dreamy, beautiful, tragic way. I’ll be thinking about this for such a long time.

Writing quality 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17/20 

Tracy’s Thoughts: Ogawa is a master storyteller. She writes compelling stories, and her writing isn’t limited to any specific genre. This one is speculative fiction, written in the 1990s. Something to keep in mind, because it certainly has stood the test of the last 20 years.

Descriptions are well done. Objects, places, feelings, are familiar and easy to see in the mind. Characters, though, have no names, and are treated with some detachment. This could be seen as intentional, since the Memory Police are trying to remove so much, including things that so many people need and love. There is no logic as to what is taken by the Memory Police, except that these things have meaning for some.

The plot is straightforward, and I imagine this was more original when it was written. It is a dark and disturbing story that will disappoint those who require an ending wrapped up in a bow. Those of us who don’t need a neat ending will like it, though.

Writing: 4/5
Originality: 3.5/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total: 14/20

The Eighth Life 18.5
Memory Police 15.5
Faces on the Tip of my Tongue 14.17
Mac and his Problem 12.5




One Comment Post a comment
  1. I read this one. I love Ogawa and while you can tell this was an earlier work of hers, it was still very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 10, 2020

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