Magazine article The Spectator

'Memoirs of a Polar Bear', by Yoko Tawada, Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Memoirs of a Polar Bear', by Yoko Tawada, Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky - Review

Article excerpt

In Yoko Tawada's surreal and beguiling novel we meet three bears: mother, daughter and grandson. But there will be no porridge or bed-testing here: these are bears with a difference.

Tawada has form in animal-linked fiction: The Bridegroom Was a Dog won a major Japanese award. Writing in Japanese and German, she is a prizewinner in both countries. This three-part novel, felicitously translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, draws us deep into the lives of her ursine trio. Transcending anthropomorphism, her beasts retain their essential 'bear-ness' in the human world.

Mama bear, an ex-performer in a Moscow circus, is savvy, opinionated and scatty: 'I hate making small talk about the weather, so I often miss forecasts of major changes. Even the Prague Spring came as a complete surprise to me.' She attends solemn conferences ('The Significance of Bicycles in the National Economy', 'Capitalism and Meat-eating') and secretly scribbles an autobiography that becomes an instant bestseller. Writing proves more politically dangerous than circus acrobatics, and an invitation to West Berlin from Kaos (Keeping Authors Out of Siberia) arrives just in time. In Berlin she charms publishers, slips into afternoon movies and picks up fast on credit-card shopping for books and salmon, though sharp claws are no help tapping in her Pin. Mama's world-wide adventures are just beginning.

Part Two belongs to her daughter Tosca, honing her dance skills in an East Berlin circus with Barbara, her trainer and fellow-

performer. …

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