Book Review: Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada

Friday, May 5, 2017

Title: Memoirs of a Polar Bear
Author: Yoko Tawada
Translated by: Susan Bernofsky
Publication Date: March 29th 2017
RRP: $27.99AUD

Synopsis: "Someone tickled me behind my ears, under my arms. I curled up, became a full moon, and rolled on the floor. I may also have emitted a few hoarse shrieks. Then I lifted my rump to the sky and tucked my head beneath my belly: Now I was a sickle moon, still too young to imagine any danger. Innocent, I opened my anus to the cosmos and felt it in my bowels. 

A bear, born and raised in captivity, is devastated by the loss of his keeper; another finds herself performing in the circus; a third sits down one day and pens a memoir which becomes an international sensation, and causes her to flee her home. Through the stories of these three bears, Tawada reflects on our own humanity, the ways in which we belong to one another and the ways in which we are formed. Delicate and surreal, Memoirs of a Polar Bear takes the reader into foreign bodies and foreign climes, and immerses us in what the New Yorker has called 'Yoko Tawada's magnificent strangeness'."

My thoughts: This is going to be odd, because I don't normally review books that I have DNF'd. But I want to get my thoughts out on this one, and also note that there is a chance I will return to it at a later date and have a better time with it - who knows.

This book is strong on magical realism. Polar bears walk, seem to talk in some instances, and even write. I had a feeling that Tawada was using the polar bears to make a point, but for whatever reason it was just going straight over my head. I spent much of the book thinking that I just wasn't getting what she was trying to say, and that became frustrating.

When I read magical realism, I find myself enjoying the whimsical nature which can sometimes come crashing back to reality in sudden moments. With this book I just couldn't follow what was happening too well, particularly when I moved into the second section, and my enjoyment of the book kind of diminished when I started to feel like reading this was no longer a joy, but a chore. Occasionally the writing was so beautiful that I would stop and re-read a section a couple of times, but most other times the sentences were short, fragmented, harsh, without beauty and, for me, without sense.

I don't know if other people will have better experiences of this, or if I will return to it someday, but for now I am going to leave it scoreless.

[I received a review copy of this book from Allen & Unwin in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!]

Rating:  n/a

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