Book Review: The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

The Memory Police
by Yōko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (Translator)

Publication date: August 15th 2019
Publisher: Harvill Secker (first published 1994)
Pages: 288


Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed.

When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?

The Memory Police is a beautiful, haunting and provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss from one of Japan’s greatest writers. For readers of The Handmaid’s TaleFahrenheit 451and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Source: Goodreads


I won an ARC of this book in a Twitter competition and I couldn’t have been happier to hear I was going to get the opportunity to read another Ogawa book.

‘The Memory Police’ is a surreal, etheral story about the power of memory. Imagine one day it was announced that hats no longer existed. You’d have to get rid of all your hats and all photos of you wearing a hat, and anything that even mentioned hats, and then somehow, you lose all memory of what a hat even is. Sure, maybe you wouldn’t miss hats all that much, but as more and more objects disappear your life will begin to change.

What about those who seem to be immune to these disappearances? How would it feel if you could remember something that no one else could, no matter what you did to describe it?

This book was originally published in Japan 25 years ago, but it still feels completely timeless. ‘The Memory Police’ is set on an unnamed island at an unidentified time and the characters are unnamed too. This is a common style for Ogawa and is one of the reasons I enjoy her books so much. This lack of detail means that your imagination has to work that little bit harder, allowing you to place the story in any time and place you see fit.

This story is unique and unlike any dystopia story I’ve read before. I was impressed at how subtly this book explores some important topics, for example looking at how easily we conform and obey authority despite our views and the impact this may have. The story shares similar themes to Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale‘ and involves a hiding reminiscent of ‘The Diary of a Young Girl‘ by Anne Frank. These are all powerful reads and this story will likely linger with me for some time.

“If you read a novel to the end, then it’s over. I would never want to do something as wasteful as that. I’d much rather keep it here with me, safe and sound, forever.”

Overall rating: My fifth Yōko Ogawa read is one of my favourites and I can’t wait for more of her work to be translated. I really enjoyed “The Memory Police” and its unique look at how memories are an important part of our identity – 5 stars.

See my other reviews of books by Yōko Ogawa here:

16 thoughts on “Book Review: The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

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