The Memory Police

The Memory Police
By Yoko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder)

The Memory Police most obviously recalls classic dystopian works like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. In some distant land – distance in time or space not clearly identified – the “memory police” are regularly sent around to erase some part of the world. Roses are made extinct. Then photographs. Then calendars. All instances of the offending items are rounded up and destroyed and it is forbidden to mention them again.

Which isn’t a problem because everyone soon forgets what’s been tossed down the memory hole anyway. Unless you are the kind of person who remembers. Then you may be disappeared as well. For the main character, a novelist in a time when novels are themselves endangered, this raises some obvious problems.

Yoko Ogawa’s book is different from those by Orwell and Bradbury in being more fantastic, along the lines of something by China Miéville. One has the sense of it being an allegory for the deletion of our own material culture, consigned to the great memory hole in the digital cloud – retrievable, in theory, but forever out of mind.

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