The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, Pantheon, 2019
It is easy to read Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police as a political allegory, along the lines of Milan Kundera’s oft-quoted proclamation in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Upon The Memory Police’s release in English this summer, publishing presses label the novel “Orwellian;” critics have similarly gravitated toward the timely themes of state surveillance and totalitarianism that form the novel’s backdrop, to which I relate in some way.
At the time of writing this essay, Hong Kong, the city where I was born, has been entrenched in protest for three months against the institutional violence committed by the government and the police force. With a crowdfunded campaign to place protest ads on international newspapers, a post on the August 19, 2019 edition of The New York Times asked readers to “[b]ear witness to Hongkongers’ fight for freedom. Tell our story—especially if we can no longer do it ourselves.” A month after, when two shafts of light went up in New York City to commemorate the eighteenth anniversary of 9/11, news headlines and Twitter posts abounded with the slogan “Never Forget,” used year after year to show the resilience of memory against trauma. Never have we been more well-equipped to record and share our experiences, but we are also more afraid than ever of not retaining control over our narratives, or of going unheard amidst the overflow of calamities documented around the world.