The first duty of the Memory Police was to enforce the disappearances.
How ironic that the very next book I pick up after The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree should also be about terror. Force. Loss.
Things disappear, like emeralds and perfume bottles, ferry boats and families. People who are able to still remember are taken away by the Memory Police, never to be seen again. And so, some of them go into hiding.
Though the cold weather had not yet set in, they each wore several layers of shirts, an overcoat each, and mufflers and scarves wrapped around their necks. They held bags and suitcases that were obviously stuffed full. It seemed they had been trying to bring with them as many useful items as they were able to carry. (p. 21)
I am reminded of reading The Diary of a Young Girl, and Anne Frank’s description of wearing as many clothes as they could before they went into hiding. Although The Memory Police is a work of fiction, it closely resembles the power of a government gone wrong to me.
The island is run by men who are determined to see things disappear. (p. 25)
While it is never quite clear exactly why things disappear from the people, or where it is that these things go, what is made evident is the fear and the loss in their aftermath. One of the patterns that I kept noticing is how Ogawa drew a connection between “memory” and “heart.”
Memories are a lot tougher than you might think. Just like the hearts that hold them. (p. 109)
Maybe there’s a place out there where people whose hearts aren’t empty can keep on living. (p. 117)
The music continue to play, before the disappearance and after. It plays on faithfully, as long as the key is wound. That’s its role, now and forever. The only thing that’s different is the hearts of those who once heard it. (p. 147)
‘There, behind your heartbeat, have you stored up all my lost memories?’ I thought this to myself, cheek pressed against R.’s chest. (p. 158)
I will be thinking about this novel for a long time, considering the impact of loss on our lives; the impact of loss on our hearts. Ogawa raises so many questions, I think, more than she gives us answers. Where do the things which have disappeared go? Do we eventually become accustomed to what we have lost, and not experience the pain as acutely as we did at first? What are we, if we have no memories? And, ultimately, isn’t loss inevitable?
In a beautifully written book, I am struck by this thought towards the end: “But I suppose the order of the disappearances made no real difference – if in the end everything disappeared anyway.” (p. 271)
There is no avoiding loss. There is only deciding on how it is that we will handle our memories.
About the author: Yoko Ogawa has won every major Japanese literary award. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope: All-Story. Her works include The Diving Pool, a collection of three novellas; The Housekeeper and the Professor; Hotel Iris; and Revenge. She lives in Tokyo.
The Memory Police was translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.
Find a fascinating review of this book from Tom at Wuthering Expections.