Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
The Memory Police (Amazon | Book Depository)
Written by Yoko Ogawa Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder Publisher: Pantheon Books (2019, first published, 1994). Original Title: 密やかな結晶
ISBN: 1101870605 (ISBN13: 9781101870600). Literary Awards: World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2020), BTBA Best Translated Book Award Nominee for Fiction Longlist (2020), National Book Award Finalist for Translated Literature (2019), International Booker Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2020). Bought a copy of the book. Book quote layouts done via Typorama.
I first learned of Yoko Ogawa through my #HorrorPostalLitsy Book Club (which has unfortunately been adversely affected by the pandemic, but that is a story for another time). I read her Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales (Amazon | Book Depository) and was immediately in awe of her literary craftsmanship. I felt that each story can serve as a mentor text for writers who wish to learn about the science and art of story structure, character building, atmosphere setting, plot development – it was masterfully done.
The Memory Police solidified my view that Yoko Ogawa is evidently a genius. The narrative struck me in so many levels – living in the current world we are in now with wannabe-fascists, militarization as the default response to societal ills (including the pandemic), and the gradual dispossession of everything that is urgent, meaningful, worthwhile.
I was especially disturbed by the lack of disturbance among the inhabitants of this mythical island where people’s memories of random objects, events, seasons are systematically wiped out from one’s physical reality, redefining the very nature and fabric of existence. It is a reminder that people can indeed learn to live with everyday horrors, making space for it even, to attain an elusive state of equilibrium; or simply denying the gravity of a situation that is clearly unfathomable and downright unacceptable.
I cannot help but think of my own home country, the over 30,000 people dead due to a bogus drug war adroitly perpetrated by those who are in power, and the marked indifference by a large majority of people who would much rather focus on cat videos, Tiktok, and the mind-numbing reality of having to strategize how to secure one’s next meal and the one after that, and the day after.
Throughout the horror of this story, there are glimpses of laughter, beauty, deliverance – evoked even more powerfully by Ogawa’s lyrical language. I especially loved the story-within-a-story aspect of the narrative. I was grief-stricken by the loss of words, the burning of books, and the eventual dispossession of all that is tangible and real. I also wondered what would human beings be, without their memories. And how would the future be like if our memories are invalidated or reframed, skilfully re-created by those who have the resources to do so with their spin doctors and heinous internet trolls who are able to make one plus one equal three. Unlike Ogawa’s characters, we do have the power to prevent this from happening. The idea is to prepare our young people to resist Orwell’s thought police (of 1984) and Ogawa’s memory police. The struggle, indeed, continues – and educators clearly have work to do in this regard.
#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 30 out of target 100