Magazine article World Literature Today

Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Magazine article World Literature Today

Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Article excerpt

Yoko Tawada. Memoirs of a Polar Bear. Trans. Susan Bernofsky. New York. New Directions. 2016. 288 pages.

As acrobatic with her writing as her polar bear subjects, Yoko Tawada walks a line between fantastical yet believable. Her novel Memoirs of a Polar Bear is her circus showcasing this amazing feat of balance. The author fills the audience with expectations and then fulfills them in unexpected ways. While the bears are celebrated, it is not for their acquired ability to navigate human society, for this seems somewhat commonplace. The atmosphere is curated with precise details, yet the end result is vague and open-ended. These contradictions highlight Tawada's skill at manipulating language to seem that she is revealing more than she is. And, like any good presentation, it leaves the reader wishing there was more.

The opening act tells of the grandmother, as she is never referred to by name. After spending years in the circus, she retires to an administrative position, which allows her to pursue her ultimate quest- recovering memories from childhood, and perhaps beyond, through writing her autobiography. The following chapter describes the bond of her daughter, Tosca, to her trainer and their pursuit of shared goals. The final act is on the grandson, named Knut, who struggles with his place in the world between bears and humans. …

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