The Memory Police

Translation: Stephen Snyder


If you think that Yōko Ogawa is a writer of only warm and intimate novels, then you are definitely wrong. The Memory Police is a disturbing book on many levels – the action takes place on a seemingly ordinary, unnamed island, but we know from the very first pages of the book that there is something wrong with it. Every now and then specific things disappear from it – flowers, ribbons, perfumes – and with them the memory of them. Everything is watched closely by the “memory police”, who cares about it, that absolutely no one remembered what should remain forgotten. But what about those who still remember?

Ogawa does not try to unravel the mystery of why certain things disappear. Instead, she makes us wonder how far the “special memory” police will go in keeping track of the islanders and controlling a shared vision of the world. But The Memory Police is more than a description of a dystopian world or a political metaphor. It is difficult to read it only as a parable of what is happening in our world today, because the book was written twenty-five years ago, although it was only now published in English for the first time.

The Memory Police is promoted as a dystopian novel, but for us in Tajfuny, it is much more than that. It is a story about a violent world – both about the relationship between the “memory police” and heroes, but also about the relationship between the people themselves. It is a story about a lack of trust, but also about allowing the world to go wherever it is going. It is largely a book about memory – about how easily it is bent – by force, trauma, age, or because it is easier to forget. For some it will be a metaphor for oppressive rule, for violent relationship, and for others it will be a story about life and aging. But after the book is closed, we all have a lot of anxiety left.

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