A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, The Memory Police takes place on an unnamed island, where objects are disappearing. When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards.
In her newest novel, one of Japan’s most acclaimed authors explores truth, state surveillance and individual autonomy. Ogawa’s fable echoes the themes of George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, but it has a voice and power all its own.
The Memory Police is finely translated by Stephen Snyder and reaches English-language readers as if sent from the future. Ogawa’s weightless and unadorned prose weaves a world where memory is always associative; we remember not just the object itself but what it conjures ... The Memory Police doesn’t lend itself to easy analysis; we cannot say the state is Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Nazi Germany, or wrap the novel neatly around any specific historical amnesia ... While a reader may feel the need to interpret it solely as a political novel, the book also reads, accurately and passionately, as a profound meditation on dying ... When the story arrives at its fruition, its power seems to come out of the thin air and thin existence in which its characters are trapped. Yet the force of its ending is cumulative and phenomenal, and taps into the very source and meaning of memory. The Memory Police is a masterpiece ... It is a rare work of patient and courageous vision.
Although the Memory Police could become the stuff of cheap Orwellian horror, Ogawa avoids this trap by consistently presenting them with a calm, chilling understatement that repeatedly catches us off guard. Here as throughout the novel, Ogawa’s imagery is empowered by the beauty and simplicity of her prose, which, in this elegant translation by Stephen Snyder, evokes a mood of elegiac sadness that blankets the twists and turns of the story and lingers long after the novel ends in inevitable dissolution ... Ogawa offers no explanations for the inexplicable 'laws of the island.' None are needed ... The richness of characterization, the subtly poetic imagery, and the strangely compelling nature of the leisurely plot make The Memory Police singularly unforgettable.