ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



June 2024



The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy contemplative stories.

In a nutshell:
The main character of this book is a novelist whose name we never learn. She lives alone in a world where anything can disappear. But not for everyone.

Worth quoting:
The writing is the book is lovely, but I didn’t find myself underlining anything specific.

Why I chose it:
This was a birthday gift from friends.

I’m feeling a bit melancholy after reading this book, but I’m not sad, and I’m not disappointed that I read it. I love that not every book is meant to leave the reader feeling happy.

In the world of this book, things disappear. And not in a ‘oh no, Bob lost his laptop’ kind of way. Categories of items just disappear. First they start to disappear from memory, and then everyone takes what they have left of the items and disposes of them, never to be seen again. So, for example, apples. One day, people have apples, and apple trees, applesauce. But then apples disappear, and so all remaining apples just rot away, and people forget the word and what it represented. If they come across, say, an image of an apple, it will look like nothing they’ve seen before; just an abstract object.

But not everyone forgets, and that’s where the Memory Police come in. Their job is to interrogate anyone who appears to not be able to forget things that have disappeared, and if they do retain memories, they themselves are removed from the town.

The main character is a novelist, and the novel she is writing is interspersed throughout the book. Her mother was someone who could remember, and was taken away years ago. She hid items that had disappeared all over the house, showing them to the novelist when she was a child, even though the novelist had no memory and no point of reference to it. Her editor is also someone who can remember, and she is determined to protect him from the memory police. I think only one person in the book has a name that is shared with the reader; everyone else is known by their job, or perhaps an initial, or their demographics – her best friend is the old man.

What stands out most for me is how people can come to adjust to things that from the outside are just unacceptable. How, as more and more things disappear, the people of the town don’t question things (likely for fear of a visit from the Memory Police), and instead figure out ways to adapt and continue living their lives. Some might call it resilience, but it also seems like in this town people are just living with the ongoing drone of trauma and trying to make the best of it. It seems clear that these disappearances are not happening outside of the island, but we don’t hear of many people making attempts to escape. They seem to have accepted their fate, for the most part, and are just interested in living the lives they can.

What’s next for this book:
Keep, recommend to others.

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