Video Book Review – The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

I’m so excited to talk about The Memory Police.

Here’s the thing. Usually, on my booktube channel, I give my honest review of a book’s high and low points. However, sometimes I’ll come across a book that I really love. Instead of doing a legit review, I spend 10 minutes basically gushing about it, dissecting, analyzing, delving into all the things I loved about it. This will be one of those reviews. 

The rundown:

The Memory Police is a dystopian novel, translated from Japanese. On a little island in Japan, things have been disappearing one by one for as long as our main character can remember. Along with those things, the people’s memories disappear. It begins with somewhat innocuous things like ribbons or perfume or green beans or music boxes. Once they disappear, it’s as if they never existed in the first place. 

The memory police help enforce the disappearances. These armed guards help eradicate every piece of that thing, searching homes, burning the remnants in bonfires. 

A few wonderful things to ponder

It’s remarkable how quietly and gently things slip away. The people on the island accept it as normal and move on. Though it sometimes means losing their livelihoods, the townspeople simply move on to other things, because it never existed. They’re almost institutionalized, unquestioningly accepting of the prisons this creates of their minds.

I have many questions, the biggest one being “why”? How did this begin happening in the first place? What is behind all of these policed memories? We know that there’s some bigger force at work. Is it God? Is it some malevolent being? 

Maybe I’m not meant to ask those questions. We, like the characters in the book, are perhaps meant not to question it. We’re not meant to rail against it and fight. We the readers exist quietly within the reality, like the characters in the books. 

David at the Booktube channel The Poptimist brought up a Japanese phrase that gave the book so much more meaning: mono no aware. It’s a Japanese concept that acknowledges “the ahh-ness of things, life, and love.” (Wikipedia) It sees the beauty and gentle sadness of life’s transience, such as what we see with the fleetingly blooming cherry blossoms. 

The New Yorker discusses The Memory Police in relation to magical realism. This genre takes something that’s almost lifelike but adds a fantastical element to it. Their examples include Exit West by Mohsin Hamid or The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. 

Read this book. Read it. It’s beautiful and filled me with the most exquisite sadness.

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