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The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa | Thoughts

Published in: 1994, translated into English in 2019
Format read in: ebook / print
Location: Unknown location
Rating: 5/5Why I read it: I’ve had The Housekeeper and the Professor in my TBR for a long time so when I found another book by the same author available to borrow at Overdrive, I decided to go for it.One line review: This book about forgetting and disappearance will make you wonder how much you take for granted about the little things. Who should read it: If you don't mind a little dystopian fiction in your already dystopian life and if you are okay with open endings, you may enjoy this book. Men who start by burning books end by burning other menThoughts:Yoko Ogawa's The Housekeeper and The Professor has been in my wishlist since around the time I started tracking my reading. And yet, it is The Memory Police that I started reading first. I found this available on Overdrive when I was browsing something new and something unexpected. It definitely fit both expectations and m…

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa | Thoughts

Published in: 1994, translated into English in 2019
Format read in: ebook / print
Location: Unknown location
Rating: 5/5

Why I read it: I’ve had The Housekeeper and the Professor in my TBR for a long time so when I found another book by the same author available to borrow at Overdrive, I decided to go for it.

One line review: This book about forgetting and disappearance will make you wonder how much you take for granted about the little things. 

Who should read it: If you don't mind a little dystopian fiction in your already dystopian life and if you are okay with open endings, you may enjoy this book.

Men who start by burning books end by burning other men

Thoughts:

Yoko Ogawa's The Housekeeper and The Professor has been in my wishlist since around the time I started tracking my reading. And yet, it is The Memory Police that I started reading first. I found this available on Overdrive when I was browsing something new and something unexpected. It definitely fit both expectations and more.

The Memory Police is set in an apocalyptic society where people routinely lose objects (and therefore any memory associated with that object). When this happens, they shrug off the disappearance as if it's an everyday occurrence and just move on with their life. The day after something has "disappeared", residents eliminate and destroy that object from their possessions. For example, when the rose flower disappears, whoever had a rose plant in their house or garden got rid of the flowers. There does not appear to be any discrimination in how the objects are chosen, and so, sometimes objects that have a huge cultural or societal significance are also lost.

However, there are some people who are unaffected by the disappearance. They do not forget the disappeared objects nor do they feel a compulsion to get rid of said objects. The titular memory police is constantly on the lookout for such people, but no one knows what happens to them.

Our protagonist is part of the majority that forgets disappeared items yet quite a few people in her circle belong to that hunted clan. We learn at the beginning that her mother was taken away by the memory police fifteen years ago, so when she learns that someone close to her does not forget disappeared objects, she offers her help to hide him.

I could argue that this is a bad time to read an apocalyptic novel but by my same argument, I would also say that there has never been a better time to read it. The limits of our humanity is tested during events of apocalyptic or pandemic nature and this year has certainly shown us that. Most of us believe there is a pandemic and many believe it is important to take precautions. We disagree on the extent of the precautions and then we shame those that believe differently. And then there's the stress that this has created. Jobs, education, the life we knew - these are all at risk. We are forced to be different people and to live differently, and it's not something we embrace easily. 

The Memory Police, as do many other books set in a dystopian world, provide an insight into humans and how they adapt. I would probably liken the theme in this book more to the years of the World War II when Jews and other minorities were secretly whisked off to camps. Some who saw it shrugged it off, and others didn't believe anything was wrong. By the time it was becoming obvious, it was also MUCH harder to do anything of significance without harming yourself. In The Memory Police, with many people not realizing what it means for things to disappear (since they are physiologically unable to), there is no resistance or an attempt to change anything. 

This isn't a good vs evil book, nor is it going to satisfactorily tie loose ends. From the beginning, it is clear that's not the point. Instead, it offers the reader an opportunity to imagine the what-ifs and the why-nots and dare I say that it's the kind of book where the more you read, the more you learn... about yourself. However, if these bother you or if you prefer your fiction to not leave you with more questions than answers, then this isn't the book for you.

I used to be bothered by books like this. Years ago, I read Chitra Banerjee's One Amazing Thing and I rated it very low because of the ambiguous ending. I wanted to know how the author thought it ended and didn't want to conjure up the option myself. I think that book deserves a reread now because my expectations have changed. But I digress...

There is just so much to make sense of in this book. It sounds strange to think that objects disappear and people don't care. How does humanity thrive? Isn't it the primary goal of every species to find a way to survive and propagate? But then I remembered having a strange conversation with a very smart kid about Sony Walkman and how this kid found it laughable that there was even such a thing. But of course, it and analog cameras disappeared because they were replaced by newer technology. Someday, there won't be a single person alive who can say they've actively used those objects for non-research purposes. 

As I finished the book, I did wonder about the world outside the location in this book and what happens after *that ending*. The bigger theme it got me thinking about was blind acceptance. What does it take for you to accept something if it didn't have immediate consequence for you? What if you're conditioned to never question? What if asking questions could get you into trouble? Could the residents have fought back against the disappearance of items at all? Even though many could not recall the objects that disappeared, those who could remember them do try to convince their friends or family to try hard to remember.

I'll be pondering these and several other questions for a long time. I also fell in love with Ogawa's writing (and/or with Stephen Snyder's translation.) It was difficult to put it down and get to reality, even if reality was a lot better than the world in this book. Reading this has certainly made me want to read more of Ogawa's books, sooner.

If you've read the book, what did you think about it? Have you read any other books by Yoko Ogawa?


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