Yoko Ogawa: The Memory Police (2019)

It wasn’t even darkness. There was nothing, nothing at all, no air or noise or gravity – not even me to experience them. Just overwhelming nothingness.

I finally got to write about The Memory Police. I had finished reading a couple of weeks ago but I cannot muster up the courage to write. I can’t out of fear. Out of sadness. It is not just about the book but what it means, right now.

The Memory Police tells the story of a woman who lives in a place where things disappear. Once in a while, the people in this unnamed place wake up somehow knowing that something has been “disappeared” and they must remove every physical representation of these ideas. Then, because these objects no longer existed in the real world, any memory, any attachment, any idea that they once existed eventually ceases to exist.

Or, maybe it is the other way around. The first to disappear are the feelings and memories people harbor for these objects before the physical evidences are forgotten.

Regardless, one by one, things disappear.

But in a world turned upside down, things I thought were mine and mine alone can be taken away much more easily than I would have imagined. If my body were cut up in pieces and those pieces mixed with those of other bodies, and then if someone told me, “Find your left eye,” I suppose it would be difficult to do so.

The book does not explain how or why or if this is a science experiment on the people in the island. What we, the readers, are given is that it is what it is. No one asks. No one resists. It just happens. It just is.

Here and there are special cases who, for some reason, are unaffected by these disappearances. Perhaps it is in their genetic makeup, but they do not forget. These people are in hiding. They cannot reveal their ability – rather, inability, or risk being taken by The Memory Police. One of these individuals is the narrator’s editor, R, who our narrator hides under her floorboards to protect against authority. Through writing, R helps her regain, or at least keep, the memories that have disappeared and are disappearing.

“I don’t know whether that’s the right word, but I do know that you’re changing, and not in a way that can be easily reversed or undone. It seems to be leading to an end that frightens me a great deal.”

For me, to properly review this novel requires a bit of distance and, as of this moment, I do not have that. That is why this is hard, painful, and scary. To be exactly at a time when truth is distorted and erased through propaganda and disinformation, an overwhelming majority denying history, The Memory Police cannot be just a book I have read for leisure. Rather, it is a diary, and I am the author.

I found myself shaking in different, numerous parts of the story. The similarity between the book and what is happening in reality is scarily accurate. They say life imitates art and I agree. How far are we from a time when Orwell’s 1984, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Ogawa’s The Memory Police are not simply works of fiction?

Or are we in that dystopia now? And in which part?

Our memories have been battered by the disappearances, and even now when it’s almost too late, we still don’t realize the importance of the things that have been lost.

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