Memoirs of a Polar Bear is such a strange, enchanting book. Told from the point of view of three different generations of polar bears, it is both a work of magic and a poignant look at parenting and abandonment, and all the ways those terms can be complicated. Recommended By Darla M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The Memoirs of a Polar Bear has in spades what Rivka Galchen hailed in the New Yorker as Yoko Tawada's magnificent strangeness -- Tawada is an author like no other. Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. In chapter two, Tosca, her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son the last of their line is Knut, born in chapter three in a Leipzig zoo but raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo, until his keeper, Matthias, is taken away...
Happy or sad, each bear writes a story, enjoying both celebrity and "the intimacy of being alone with my pen."
"An absorbing work from a fascinating mind." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Tawada bears out the truth that tongues can also bring inventive thoughts to vibrant life." The Boston Globe
"Yoko Tawada's whimsical ursine family saga expresses a powerful sense of justice." The Irish Times
"Tawada's accounts of alienation achieve a remarkable potency." The New York Times Book Review
"Ms Tawada brings her fine-nosed, soft-furred beasts to life... [Tawada] has a deadpan wit and disorienting mischief all her own, nimbly translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky." The Economist
"For all the wonderful workings of plot and structure in Memoirs of the Polar Bear, what is truly affecting is Tawada's writing, which jumps off the page and practically sings." Juan Vidal, NPR
"Tawada’s stories agitate the mind like songs half remembered or treasure boxes whose keys are locked within." The New York Times
"The novel’s eldest bear describes writing as a 'dangerous acrobatic stunt.' In Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Tawada executes this stunt with the effortless grace of a seasoned circus performer." Thomas Michael Duncan, Words Without Borders
"Tawada asks us to see writing from an unusual perspective: it is like balancing on a ball, or hunting. Thus we’re forced to see writing not just as a cerebral art but a physical one, as well." Chad W. Post, Three Percent
About the Author
Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960, moved to Hamburg when she was twenty-two, and then moved again to Berlin in 2006. She writes in both Japanese and German, and has received the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Goethe Medal.
The translator of Yoko Tawada, Franz Kafka, and Robert Walser, among others, Susan Bernofsky is currently working on a biography of Walser.