Tag Archives: National Book Award Finalist

Review: The Memory Police

The Memory Police

The Memory Police
By Yoko Ogawa, Translated by Stephen Snyder
Vintage, 9781101911815, July 2020, 288pp.

The Short of It:

Ethereal and beautiful, tinged with sadness.

The Rest of It:

On a remote island, random objects begin to disappear. Birds, roses, ribbons, etc. The inhabitants wake to a feeling of change yet can’t put their finger on what has changed until they interact with others on the island. The strange thing is that the feeling that the disappearance causes precedes the actual disappearance which is followed through to completion by the inhabitants themselves. So when roses disappear, the inhabitants gather up all the roses to destroy them and send them down a river.

The disappearances are enforced by the Memory Police. How they know when someone is holding out is not explained but if someone tries to preserve something that has disappeared, they are taken away. Eventually, when all traces are removed, most of the inhabitants can no longer recall the item at all. All memory of the item has disappeared as well. But there are some who never forget. The memories of these items remain in them, and for some, they’ve even been able to preserve the actual item, such as a piece of candy. As living becomes more difficult and the situation more dire, you can’t help but compare what is going on with Orwell’s 1984.

The three main characters are for the most part, unnamed. Our protagonist, a young woman, lost both her parents and lives a solitary life. She is a writer and befriended by her editor, only known as “R” and a kind old man who knew her mother. The three navigate these disappearances as best they can but “R” happens to be one of the people who can remember and so he must go into hiding with their help. What will disappear next?

This story is beautifully written. I found myself rereading many passages as I went along. The author’s skill at evoking a particular memory is especially wonderful. I found myself mourning all the things we have lost during this pandemic. The smell of a wonderful meal, served to me in a bustling restaurant filled with laughter and happy people. Or I found myself missing movie theatres and that anticipation you feel when the previews roll or the smell of hot buttered popcorn while sitting back to enjoy a really good film. The story made me feel all kinds of things. Yes, it made me a little sad but also hopeful because I am fairly certain that the tangible things we’ve lost during this pandemic are only temporary losses, not like the ones in the story.

The author’s inspiration was Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. This makes sense when you consider the hiding that must take place to keep these people safe. The Memory Police is a wonderful read. I have found a new favorite author in Ogawa and can’t wait to read another book by her.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
By Ben Fountain
(Ecco, Hardcover, 9780060885595, May 2012, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

A simple, sweet story about a young man’s brief return from the war in Iraq.

The Rest of It:

Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn returns home on Thanksgiving after a wicked firefight over in Iraq and because it was televised, he and the other members of Bravo Company suddenly find themselves in the spotlight. So much so, that the rights to their story have been sold and a Hollywood deal is in the works.

This was a really interesting read. It’s so simple and subtle and so much of it takes place during a Dallas Cowboy’s football game, that you almost want to dismiss it for being too simple. But I really enjoyed this book for a lot of different reasons. One, it totally captured the feelings of a young man at the age of nineteen. Billy has this wide-eyed innocence that makes him extremely likable. As the minutes tick on, we are reminded time and time again that his time home is brief, that he will be returning to war and that anything is possible. The fragile nature of his existence is palpable and I thought about his situation long after finishing the book.

The other thing that I really liked was how well the author incorporated the other characters into the story. The other men each have their own distinct personalities and since time with them is so brief, this only added to the feeling that life is slipping away for them. Fountain even managed to introduce a love interest for Billy and somehow, it was plausible and I totally bought it.

This is a simple story, told well. Fountain’s ability to hold you in the moment is what made this one a winner for me. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and I can see why.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.