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The Memory Police
Cover of The Memory Police
The Memory Police
A Novel
Finalist for the International Booker Prize and the National Book Award
A haunting Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance, from the acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor.
On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses. . . . Most of the inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few able 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 writer discovers that her editor is in danger, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her f loorboards, and together they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. Powerful and provocative, The Memory Police is a stunning novel about the trauma of loss.
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
THE NEW YORK TIMES * THE WASHINGTON POST * TIME * CHICAGO TRIBUNE * THE GUARDIAN * ESQUIRE * THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS * FINANCIAL TIMES * LIBRARY JOURNAL * THE A.V. CLUB * KIRKUS REVIEWS * LITERARY HUB

American Book Award winner
Finalist for the International Booker Prize and the National Book Award
A haunting Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance, from the acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor.
On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses. . . . Most of the inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few able 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 writer discovers that her editor is in danger, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her f loorboards, and together they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. Powerful and provocative, The Memory Police is a stunning novel about the trauma of loss.
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
THE NEW YORK TIMES * THE WASHINGTON POST * TIME * CHICAGO TRIBUNE * THE GUARDIAN * ESQUIRE * THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS * FINANCIAL TIMES * LIBRARY JOURNAL * THE A.V. CLUB * KIRKUS REVIEWS * LITERARY HUB

American Book Award winner
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    1
    I sometimes wonder what was disappeared first—­among all the things that have vanished from the island.
     
    “Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here,” my mother used to tell me when I was still a child. “Transparent things, fragrant things . . . fluttery ones, bright ones . . . wonderful things you can’t possibly imagine.
     
    “It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is on this island. Things go on disappearing, one by one. It won’t be long now,” she added. “You’ll see for yourself. Something will disappear from your life.”
     
    “Is it scary?” I asked her, suddenly anxious.
     
    “No, don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt, and you won’t even be particularly sad. One morning you’ll simply wake up and it will be over, before you’ve even realized. Lying still, eyes closed, ears pricked, trying to sense the flow of the morning air, you’ll feel that something has changed from the night before, and you’ll know that you’ve lost something, that something has been disappeared from the island.”
     
    My mother would talk like this only when we were in her studio in the basement. It was a large, dusty, rough-­floored room, built so close to the river on the north side that you could clearly hear the sound of the current. I would sit on the little stool that was reserved for my use, as my mother, a sculptor, sharpened a chisel or polished a stone with her file and talked on in her quiet voice.
     
    “The island is stirred up after a disappearance. People gather in little groups out in the street to talk about their memories of the thing that’s been lost. There are regrets and a certain sadness, and we try to comfort one another. If it’s a physical object that has been disappeared, we gather the remnants up to burn, or bury, or toss into the river. But no one makes much of a fuss, and it’s over in a few days. Soon enough, things are back to normal, as though nothing has happened, and no one can even recall what it was that disappeared.”
     
    Then she would interrupt her work to lead me back behind the staircase to an old cabinet with rows of small drawers.
     
    “Go ahead, open any one you like.”
     
    I would think about my choice for a moment, studying the rusted oval handles.
     
    I always hesitated, because I knew what sorts of strange and fascinating things were inside. Here in this secret place, my mother kept hidden many of the things that had been disappeared from the island in the past.
     
    When at last I made my choice and opened a drawer, she would smile and place the contents on my outstretched palm.
     
    “This is a kind of fabric called ‘ribbon’ that was disappeared when I was just seven years old. You used it to tie up your hair or decorate a skirt.
     
    “And this was called a ‘bell.’ Give it a shake—­it makes a lovely sound.
     
    “Oh, you’ve chosen a good drawer today. That’s called an ‘emerald,’ and it’s the most precious thing I have here. It’s a keepsake from my grandmother. They’re beautiful and terribly valuable, and at one point they were the most highly prized jewels on the island. But their beauty has been forgotten now.
     
    “This one is thin and small, but...

About the Author-
  • Yoko Ogawa has won every major Japanese literary award. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope: All-Story. Her works include The Diving Pool, a collection of three novellas; The Housekeeper and the Professor; Hotel Iris; and Revenge. She lives in Hyogo.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 24, 2019
    Ogawa (Revenge) returns with a dark and ambitious novel exploring memory and power—both individual and institutional—through a dystopian tale about state surveillance. The unnamed female narrator is an orphaned novelist living on an unnamed island that is in the process of disappearing, item by item. The disappearances, of objects such as ribbons, perfume, birds, and calendars, are manifested in a physical purge of the object as well as a psychological absence in the island’s residents’ memories. The mysterious and brutal Memory Police are in charge of enforcing these disappearances, randomly searching homes and arresting anyone with the ability to retain memory of the disappeared, including the narrator’s mother. When the narrator discovers her editor, R, is someone who does not have the ability to forget, she builds a secret room in her house to hide him, with the help of her former nurse’s husband, an old man who once lived on the ferry, which has also disappeared. Though R may not leave the room for fear of discovery, he, the narrator, and the old man are able to create a sense of home and family. However, the disappearances and the Memory Police both grow more aggressive, with more crucial things disappearing at a faster rate, and it becomes clear that it will be impossible for them—their family unit, and the island as a whole—to continue. The classic Ogawa hallmarks are here, a dark eroticism and idiosyncratic characters, but it’s also clear she’s expanded her range into something even deeper. This is a searing, vividly imagined novel by a wildly talented writer.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from June 1, 2019
    Without names, these people, this island, could be anyone, anywhere. As fantastical as the premise of her latest Anglophoned novel seems, Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor, 2009) intends exactly that universality. Initially, small things disappeared? Ribbon, bell, emerald, stamp. What didn't just vanish was destroyed. And then people disappeared?those able to remember were removed by the Memory Police to ensure community uniformity. A novelist, whose mother was a sculptor with secret-filled drawers, her father an ornithologist, lives alone while writing her latest book about a voiceless woman. When her editor reveals that his memories remain intact, the novelist immediately recognizes the danger. The novelist works with her trusted childhood nurse's husband, now a daring duo, to build a hidden refuge in the novelist's house. Then books disappear, the rest are burned; the single library, too. And still, the disappearing doesn't stop. Ogawa's anointed translator, Snyder, adroitly captures the quiet control with which Ogawa gently unfurls her ominously surreal and Orwellian narrative. The Memory Police loom, their brutality multiplies, but Ogawa remarkably ensures that what lingers are the human(e) connections?building a communicating device with tubing, sharing pancake bites with a grateful dog, a birthday party. As the visceral disappears, somehow the spirit holds on.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • School Library Journal

    July 17, 2020

    On an island off the coast of Japan, objects regularly disappear from memory, starting with simple things such as ribbons and perfume, but soon much more serious things are forgotten. This book was written in 1994 but was not translated into English until 2019. VERDICT Ogawa's imaginative, timeless dystopian novel is complexly layered, yet it is a simple read on the sentence level.-Elliot Riley, Deerfield Academy, MA

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    August 30, 2019

    In this unsettling allegory from Japanese author Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor), a young novelist suffers the knowledge that everything around her will disappear and live someplace beyond her memory. On an unnamed island, its residents wake up most mornings to the discovery that something has been removed from daily life -- maybe perfume or roses, later calendars and novels -- and once they vanish physically, they also vanish from the hearts and minds of the residents, as if they had never existed at all. These disappearances are enforced by the Memory Police, who forcibly remove anyone who still maintains the ability to remember. When the narrator realizes that her editor is one of those rare people, she conspires to hide him in a specially constructed space beneath the floorboards of her home. Using unadorned prose, Ogawa keeps the perspective on the narrator and her neighbors--we do not learn why this system exists or why certain objects have to disappear--but the effect is disorienting and often surreal. VERDICT This vague but haunting dystopia draws overt inspiration from classic surveillance-state novels such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, as well as The Diary of Anne Frank, but its quiet horror and magical realism most recalls Han Kang's The Vegetarian.--Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    August 30, 2019

    On an island where things keep disappearing (including body parts) and the memory police work to ensure that what's lost is forgotten, a young novelist hides her editor under the floorboards and turns to literature as a means of preserving the past. Prizewinner Ogawa's The Housekeeper and the Professor sold nearly 100,000 copies in the United States.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 1, 2019
    A novelist tries to adapt to her ever changing reality as her world slowly disappears. Renowned Japanese author Ogawa (Revenge, 2013, etc.) opens her latest novel with what at first sounds like a sinister fairy tale told by a nameless mother to a nameless daughter: "Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here...transparent things, fragrant things...fluttery ones, bright ones....It's a shame that the people who live here haven't been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that's just the way it is on this island." But rather than a twisted bedtime story, this depiction captures the realities of life on the narrator's unnamed island. The small population awakens some mornings with all knowledge of objects as mundane as stamps, valuable as emeralds, omnipresent as birds, or delightful as roses missing from their minds. They then proceed to discard all physical traces of the idea that has disappeared--often burning the lifeless ones and releasing the natural ones to the elements. The authoritarian Memory Police oversee this process of loss and elimination. Viewing "anything that fails to vanish when they say it should [as] inconceivable," they drop into homes for inspections, seizing objects and rounding up anyone who refuses--or is simply unable--to follow the rules. Although, at the outset, the plot feels quite Orwellian, Ogawa employs a quiet, poetic prose to capture the diverse (and often unexpected) emotions of the people left behind rather than of those tormented and imprisoned by brutal authorities. Small acts of rebellion--as modest as a birthday party--do not come out of a commitment to a greater cause but instead originate from her characters' kinship with one another. Technical details about the disappearances remain intentionally vague. The author instead stays close to her protagonist's emotions and the disorientation she and her neighbors struggle with each day. Passages from the narrator's developing novel also offer fascinating glimpses into the way the changing world affects her unconscious mind. A quiet tale that considers the way small, human connections can disrupt the callous powers of authority.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Chicago Tribune "Unforgettable. . . . A masterful work of speculative fiction."
  • Time "Ogawa's fable echoes the themes of George Orwell's 1984, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it has a voice and power all its own."
  • The Guardian "A masterpiece. . . . A novel that makes us see differently. . . . It is a rare work of patient and courageous vision."
  • The Wall Street Journal "A feat of dark imagination . . . an intimate, suspenseful drama of courage and endurance."
  • The New Yorker "[A] masterly novel."
  • The New York Times Book Review "An elegantly spare dystopian fable. . . . It tingles with dread."
  • The Washington Post "Quietly devastating . . . Ogawa finds new ways to express old anxieties about authoritarianism, environmental depredation and humanity's willingness to be complicit in its own demise."
  • The A.V. Club "Profoundly powerful. . . . It has the timelessness of a fable, yet feels like an urgent warning about the need for resistance in a world that seems all too quick to forget the lessons of the past."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) "A searing, vividly imagined novel by a wildly talented writer . . . Dark and ambitious."
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