The Memoirs of a Polar Bear

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The world created in Memoirs of a Polar Bear is one that seems not too far from our own–except that there are a few notable polar bears who exist among us, in our society, writing novels and performing feats of ballet to adoring fans. This book follows three generations of polar bears, all of whom are displaced from their homeland of the North Pole and who are strangers in their own countries.

The exact role of these animals in society is unclear throughout the book–as soon as the bears appear to have their own agency and to be in control of their fate, they also seem to be expected to remain as captive entertainers. At one point, a troupe of circus bears threatens to unionize if their needs are not met, but the bears in training for performance are still subjected to sometimes cruel and emotionally brutal methods of education.

The novel embraces a theme of transplantation and alienation, journeying from the remoteness of Russia to the stressful interior of West Germany, then briefly exploring Canada before returning its final narrator to a circus in Berlin. Ironically, of all the narrators depicted, the final bear, Knut, is the one with the most important mission but the least amount of agency. He is jailed in a zoo enclosure, expected to perform shows for onlookers to bring awareness to the threat of climate change and the rapidly declining fate of the North Pole–a land that Knut and the last several generations of his family have never seen. In Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Tawada has created a story that is meditative, composed, and entertaining.

Reviewed By:

Author Yoko Tawada, Susan Bernofsky, Translator
Star Count 3/5
Format Trade
Page Count 288 pages
Publisher New Directions
Publish Date 2016-11-08
ISBN 9780811225786
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue November 2016
Category Modern Literature


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