Cronici English Nr. 272

When Memories Disappear…

ogawa_literomania_english



(translated into English by Mirela Petrașcu)

 

‘The first obligation of the Memory Police was to make sure that disappearances occurred by the book.’ And, on an island the name of which is not disclosed, various things start disappearing: the ribbons, the chimes, the hats, the stamps, the perfumes, the birds, the photographs, the roses. Obviously, the Memory Police keeps vigil so that all of them should rapidly and permanently be forgotten by the inhabitants who, in their vast majority, do forget everything almost instantly, parting, apparently remorselessly, with their own past and memories. The reader learns these details from the very first pages of the Japanese writer Yōko Ogawa’s novel, entitled precisely The Memory Police.

Published in 1994, the text was regarded by many exegetes as the Japanese replication of George Orwell’s famous dystopian novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, all the more so as the very title of Ogawa’s book hints at the frightening Orwellian ‘Thought Police’. But, apart from this obvious similarity (which will, however, turn out to be rather formal), this novel somehow manages to withstand unilateral interpretation – being equally a parable of loss, an outstanding allegory of power and subjection and a bitter and lucid meditation on contemporary human condition. And, albeit the readers may be tempted, on reading certain fragments, to draw similarities between this text and other dystopian worlds depicted in various works of fiction of our time, the Japanese writer is thoroughly offbeat, as The Memory Police is far more than a protest against an authoritarian political regime and may be deemed, on close reading, an artistic accomplishment superior to many of the (militant) counter-utopias of the past decades. Moreover, this book, only apparently crystal-clear in its significance, also hints at the author’s favourite themes, recurrent in some of her other novels, such as Hotel Iris (1996), or The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003): memory, the individual’s relationship with one’s personal past or with (cultural) history, with art, the promissory redemption by love.

In The Memory Police, the narrative perspective is provided by a young female novelist who is trying to survive in this universe ever more depleted of its essential features. Left alone after the deaths of her mother (a sculptress) and of her father (an ornithologist), she leads a modest, monotonous life, like most of the island’s inhabitants, has only one friend, the old widower of the woman who had nursed her and is trying to write her books. But, little by little, this too becomes increasingly difficult, since the birds, for instance, have disappeared for a long time and the people not only fail to remember them, but they do not even miss them any longer. And the same happens to everything that disappears, so it is quite predictable that, at a given time, books will also disappear. It is precisely what happens, so the novelist in Ogawa’s book practically loses everything that matters to her most: “That night it was as if I heard my memories burn”, the woman notes in pain. However, before this, she had saved from the police raids R., her editor, the one who, just like the protagonist’s mother, had not forgotten anything of all that had disappeared.

Meanwhile, disappearances keep occurring on the island and in those mornings when yet another thing disappears, people simply give it up and then become oblivious to it. They start pulling up rose bushes form the gardens themselves when it is decided that roses must disappear, they tear and burn the maps they have in their homes and the same happens to calendars and eventually to books. Almost nobody seems to be remorseful and very few are those who try to oppose such decisions, made by an instance above the people, in utter disregard of the desires or needs of the small community. In random mornings, a light breeze and the shiver that the inhabitants feel portend another disappearance and it is only afterwards that the inhabitants learn what it is that must disappear – and be destroyed, then irredeemably forgotten. And those very few who disagree with everything that is going on will soon be quickly silenced and taken by the Memory Police patrols, always on the lookout for delinquents. Years before, the same had happened to the protagonist’s mother, the sculptress who had kept in her memory everything that had been declared vanished and who had often tried to make her daughter understand how important small things (perfumes, ribbons) were in a person’s life. Moreover, she had repeatedly violated the interdiction, imposed by the Memory Police and the authorities, to keep inside her house the objects that had to disappear and she used to keep a chest with all kinds of keepsakes –which her daughter would not even know how to use anymore when she came across them years later… Above all that, she had sculpted several statuettes in which she had hidden certain objects, in her belief that the officers sent to inspect and search people’s houses would not find them.

Most people resign themselves to living like this and to accepting everything without asking questions or doing anything to stop the course of events. They even think that cherishing the memory and importance of the things gone by is pointless, since they would no longer be able to use them without putting themselves in danger. And thus their memory becomes ever briefer, ever more fragile, shallow and inconsistent. Likewise, as Ogawa’s novelist-protagonist finds out, their hearts are growing empty, gradually becoming devoid of feeling, unable to make choices or to sense the difference between right and wrong.

The people unquestioningly accept what others decide for them, their consciousness is gradually annihilated, their memory cancelled and ultimately destroyed. Lacking the courage to openly fight this system and devoid of the capacity which some of the people on the island nevertheless still have – of not forgetting – the protagonist tries, in her own way, to put up some resistance – and to save R., her editor, by hiding him in a secret chamber which, together with her elderly friend, she has fixed inside her house. Obviously, in thus doing, the two take great risks, but they do it unhesitatingly, in an actual attempt at not only saving a man, but at preserving the memories that they themselves no longer have. R. thus becomes the symbol of collective memory, of an entire cultural past, of the history of the island, even if, when he talks to them about all of these or when, in an impressive scene, he plays the harmonica to them –albeit they do not even remember what that object is, let alone what its music represents – the old man and the novelist can do nothing but listen to him, convinced of the importance of his words, yet incapable of fully understanding them to the end.

The secret chamber imperceptibly turns into a genuine museum of objects vanished and condemned to oblivion, hosting aromatic drops, a music box, photographs, sculptures made by the protagonist’s mother, while R. lays himself out to awaken their deep memory, to help them retain their most cherished and important memories. For this reason, he takes pains to withstand the destruction of the family photographs when it is decreed that they must be forgotten, telling the woman with whom he will gradually be caught up in a tragic and impossible love story that important things will be important regardless of how much the world around them changes… Devoid of the capacity to think like R., but trusting him nevertheless, the protagonist will still have her own revelations, especially when, after books must also disappear, she notices a few pages floating by and suddenly realizes that, years ago, birds’ flight used to look like that, even if birds have long disappeared too – and she remembers birds, only to permanently forget them a moment later: ‘I gazed at the arch made by the last book falling apart in the air and it dawned on me that long ago I myself had stood at the same window with my father, with a similar view in front of us. I took a deep breath and I felt a slight pain, as if a spark were fumbling about in the boundless swamp of my heart. ‘A bird!’ I said, in sudden remembrance. The pages of the book opened, fluttering in the air like a bird making wings. Soon, the memory perished in the flames, leaving just the night behind.’

In this hostile universe, nobody knows whom they should trust or if they should still trust anybody, as long as the agents of the Memory Police are constantly on duty and their descents, followed by arrests of entire families, are ever more frequent. When should one speak, what should one say and to whom? Is it worth taking any chances? Can there still be love in such a world, in which everything is subject to disappearance and oblivion? Is human communication still possible? What about solidarity? All these questions are at the core of the protagonist’s concern and her turmoil is evinced by her conversations with the old man or with R. The novelist’s situation is all the more complicated as she, like the other inhabitants of the island, is gradually losing her memory, but she would like to keep writing. But will this still be possible? Will she still be able to do it, and if so, at what cost? Although preoccupied with all these issues herself, Ogawa resists the temptation to offer even a hint at an answer, writing a book that is almost enigmatic in its apparently formal simplicity, but managing to forcibly tackle human oblivion and historical amnesia, implicitly addressing readers in numerous countries and courageously reminding us of people – past or present – in so many places around the world, who have been forced to flee, to abandon their native land, all of their possessions and to leave behind memories, names, stories, maybe even a mother tongue, in a desperate attempt to perchance save their own lives…

Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police, translated into Romanian by Raluca Nicolae,

Bucharest, Humanitas Fiction, 2022 (Literomania, Cronici/ Reviews, No. 268, 30.10.2022)

(translated into English by Mirela Petrașcu)

 

Prima pagină Rubrici Cronici When Memories Disappear…

Donează

Interviu cu Bernard Pivot, la București

Cunoscutul jurnalist de televiziune Bernard Pivot – plecat dintre noi pe 6 mai, la 89 de ani – şi-a dedicat ...

Jocul cu literatura

A fost numit „roman dificil”, exemplu perfect de „proză experimentală” sau chiar de literatură science-fiction. Admirat de o parte a ...

„Un loc botezat Kindberg” de Julio Cortázar

Botezat Kindberg, de tradus candid prin muntele copiilor ori de văzut precum muntele cel prietenos, binevoitorul munte, oricum ai lua-o ...

„Ecouri din pădurea întunecată” – o antologie Twin Peaks

În curând, la Editura Tracus Arte va ieși din tipar o antologie de poezie română contemporană pe care am coordonat-o, ...

Macbeth, azi…

 „«Macbeth» este un thriller despre lupta pentru putere, care se desfășoară în egală măsură într-un decor sumbru de roman noir ...

„Mortul reînviat” de Lu Xun (II)

Vă propunem, în acest număr al Literomaniei, cea de a doua parte a piesei „Mortul reînviat” de Lu Xun (1881-1936) ...
Reach content for Google search „Andrei Bodiu”, „Andrei Bodiu poezii”

Andrei Bodiu şi poezia cotidianului

În ziua de 27 aprilie a anului 1965, s-a născut, la Baia Mare, Andrei Bodiu. A plecat dintre noi tot într-o ...

Un roman exemplar

Respins, pe rând, de mai multe edituri italiene, romanul „Ghepardul” a fost publicat abia în 1958, la un an după ...

„Mortul reînviat” de Lu Xun (I)

Vă propunem, în acest număr al Literomaniei, prima parte a piesei „Mortul reînviat” de Lu Xun (1881-1936), unul dintre întemeietorii ...

„Balada necunoscutului” de Cristina Vremeș (fragment)

Vă invităm să citiți, în Literomania nr. 326, un fragmet din romanul „Balada necunoscutului” de Cristina Vremeș, în curs de ...

Girls, Movies, Books

Born in Barcelona in 1961, Clara Usón is one of the iconic voices of contemporary Spanish fiction, her novels (from ...

In Pursuit of Happiness

The Spanish Quarters are not just that quaint charming place which the tourists who arrive in the centre of Naples ...

Metamorfozele ficțiunii (fragment)

Cartea săptămânii este, în acest număr al Literomaniei, volumul de eseuri și cronici „Metamorfozele ficțiunii” de Rodica Grigore, volum recent ...

„Focul” de Daniela Krien (fragment)

Roman ajuns numărul 1, respectiv numărul 3 pe lista bestsellerelor în Elveția și în „Der Spiegel” și nominalizat la Dublin ...

Despre ispitele imaginaţiei

Don Rigoberto şi frumoasa lui soţie, Lucrecia (a doua soţie, de fapt) se despart din cauza unei scene scandaloase surprinse ...

The Installation of Fear

Ever since the beginning of 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic spread across (and terrified) the world, serious diseases, the epidemics ...

Despre autor

Rodica Grigore

Este conferențiar (disciplina Literatura comparată) la Facultatea de Litere și Arte a Universității „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu; doctor în filologie din anul 2004. Volume publícate: „Despre cărți și alți demoni” (2002), „Retorica măştilor în proza interbelică românească” (2005), „Lecturi în labirint” (2007), „Măşti, caligrafie, literatură” (2011), „În oglinda literaturii” (2011, Premiul „Cartea anului”, acordat de Filiala Sibiu a Uniunii Scriitorilor din România), „Meridianele prozei” (2013), „Pretextele textului. Studii și eseuri” (2014), „Realismul magic în proza latino-amerieană a secolului XX. (Re)configurări formale şí de conținut” (2015, Premiul Asociației de Literatură Generală și Comparată” din România, Premiul G. Ibrăileanu pentru critică literară al revistei „Viața Românească”, Premiul „Cartea anuluì”, acordat de Filiala Sibiu a U.S.R.), „Călătorii în bibliotecă. Eseuri” (2016), „Cărți, vise și identități în mișcare. Eseuri despre literatura contemporană” (2018, Premiul „Șerban Cioculescu”, acordat de revista „Scrisul Românesc”), „Între lectură și interpretare. Eseuri, studii, cronici” (2020). Traduceri: Octavìo Paz, „Copiii mlaștinii. Poezia modernă de la romantism la avangardă” (2003/2017), Manuel Cortés Castañeda, „Oglinda Celuilalt. Antologie poetică” (2006), Andrei Oodrescu, „Un bar din Brooklyn. Nuvele şi povestiri” (2006, Premiul pentru Traducere a1 Filialei Sibiu a U.S.R.). A coordonat şi a realizat antologia de texte a Festivalului Internațional de Teatru de la Siblu, în perioada 2005-2012. A publicat numeroase articole în presa literară, în revistele: „Euphorion”, „Observator Cultural”, „Saeculum”, „Scrisul Românesc”, „Viața Românească”, „Vatra” etc. Colaborează cu studii, eseuri şi traduceri la publicații culturale din Spania, Mexic, Peru şi Statele Unite ale Americii. Face parte din colectivul editorial al revistei „Theory in Action. The Journal of Transformative Studies Institute” de la New York.

Scrie un comentariu

Acest site folosește Akismet pentru a reduce spamul. Află cum sunt procesate datele comentariilor tale.

Susține Literomania


Literomania este o platformă literară independentă, înființată în 2017 de Adina Dinițoiu și Raul Popescu și care funcționează ca revistă online săptămânală. Poți contribui la continuarea acestui proiect cultural independent printr-o donație unică sau recurentă (click pe butonul PayPal. Donate Now).

This will close in 20 seconds