Read Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yōko Tawada Susan Bernofsky Online


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 raiSomeone 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'....

Title : Memoirs of a Polar Bear
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781846276316
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Memoirs of a Polar Bear Reviews

  • Callum McAllister
    2019-02-28 08:16

    Polar bears, Cold War era East German setting, beautiful language. Ticks all the boxes. Favourite thing was how a lot of the time it was basically a normal story except the main characters happened to be polar bears -- which also seemed to be inconsequential information most of the time. It was like they'd have to occasionally be like "well it's quite warm in Germany because I'm a polar bear" and the other characters would be all "huh, life is confounding".

  • Anne
    2019-03-04 11:32

    Such a strange and peculiar book. I loved Part 1 best of all, it read like an extended metaphor and political commentary on humanity. Part 2 was like some strange fever dream, with some wonderfully striking passages, but Part 3 was just sad. Overall though, I enjoyed this book. Polar bear narrators for the win!

  • Ms.pegasus
    2019-03-06 07:24

    Gabriel García Márquez once wrote about the publication of his first story. He left it with the receptionist at El Espectador, too abashed to meet directly with the editor Eduardo Zalamea. Two weeks later he chanced to discover his story featured prominently in the publication. Elated, he desperately searched in vain for five centavos in order to purchase a copy. His dejection was alleviated only by the last minute acquisition of a cast-off copy of El Espectador begged from a stranger who was done with the paper. The author also admits to mixed feelings. On the one hand he was now a published author basking in the admiration of his friends. On the other hand, he was able to cast a critical eye on his story and he was realizing that many of his admirers had either misunderstood his intentions or had only given the piece a cursory reading. As was customary, he received no payment for the story. (The New Yorker, Oct. 6, 2003, p.101-105)I wondered if Tawada had this anecdote in mind as she wrote MEMOIRS OF A POLAR BEAR. The conceit of this slim three-part novel is that a Russian polar bear has the sudden compulsion to write her autobiography. After she begins, she realizes her need for an audience (she was an ex-circus performer, after all). She approaches a former admirer turned seedy publisher, named Sea Lion. Sea Lion surreptitiously adds a title to the work and publishes it as the first in a series. Of course, no payment is forthcoming to the author. The polar bear is outraged; but succumbs to pressure, and continues to submit new chapters. The memoir is translated into German, again, without her permission, and suddenly becomes popular and controversial. She receives an invitation to participate in a project to plant orange trees — in Siberia. This book is gently satirical, and, I suspect, filled with insider jokes I failed to recognize. The bear's charm lies in her mix of bearish proclivities and human-like behaviors. Sea Lion easily diverts her outrage by offerings of chocolate (undoubtedly obtained on the Russian black market). She writes impassively about her circus training, including the cruel footwear her trainer Ivan used to force her to walk on two legs. An overachiever, she injures herself during dance practice, and is given an administrative assignment. Her duties include attending conferences. At first she revels in this public showcase. As in the circus, she has a captive audience. Her outspoken views are no more outrageous or substantive than the themes of the conferences. Later, she becomes disillusioned, even taking the risk of refusing a panel discussion:“Panel discussions are like rabbits — usually what happens during such a session is that further sessions are declared necessary — and if nothing is done to prevent this, they multiply so quickly and become so numerous that it is no longer possible to provide a sufficient number of participants, even if we all devote most of each day to these sessions.” (p.15) It's a very human observation, followed up by a rueful observation that as a polar bear, she cannot fall back on the usual excuses, a bad cold or the deaths of fictional relatives.Political satire and authorial angst are interwoven with preternatural events. I found these dream-like episodes the most affecting parts of the book. In part one the polar bear imagines her long dead trainer Ivan standing next to her. The smell of him, the sound of him, feel real in that moment. She writes:“Ivan, dead within me for so many years, came back to life because I was writing about him.” (p.12) Part two begins narrated by a gifted animal trainer named Barbara. Barbara develops an intimate bond with the bear's daughter, Tosca. Barbara's sleep morphs into a communion with Tosca, as if they are dreaming the same dream simultaneously. The narrative becomes liquid, gradually flowing into Tosca's voice, until memories become the final reality. The ending of part two is haunting. Part three is narrated by Tosca's son Knut, born in a Berlin zoo. It is perhaps the most poignant of the three stories, tracking Knut's birth and nurturing by Matthias his keeper, constant companion, and mentor. Knut becomes deeply attached to Matthias, and when he becomes too big to have a human companion, becomes deeply depressed until he meets a ghostly presence named Michael to whom he confides his secret yearning for freedom. It is the flowering of dreams he's had since infancy when his grandmother would appear to him:“I'm not only your grandmother, I'm also your great-grandmother and your great-great-grandmother. I am the superimposition of numerous ancestors. From the front you see only a single figure, but behind me is an infinitely long line of ancestors. I am not one, I am many.” (p.214)This is a strange book. The three parts are very different in style and voice. It is almost a collection of three separate novellas. Without doubt, readers will have a favorite among the three. Knut's story, the last, is certainly the most accessible. I was drawn to the book by a review in The Economist. Having read it, however, I had mixed feelings. Was the conceit of the sentient polar bear sufficient to carry the reader through three stories? I felt I was missing nuances the author had in mind.NOTES:Interview with the translator, Susan Bernofsky cover art by Alyssa Cartwright is charming and captures the imaginative spirit of the book. This website gives other examples of her art.

  • Rachel (Kalanadi)
    2019-02-23 10:21

    I suppose this contains a lot of veiled commentary. Take real people and make them polar bears or take polar bears and give them inconsistent human abilities for... some reason. This was very illogical and very contradictory. I try to rationalize everything I read, so magical realism does not work so well for me.Really it's how contradictory the story could be that left me scratching my head. What's the use of establishing a fact like "This polar bear can talk" then wiping it to say "it can't communicate at all" and THEN switching to "it can speak to people in dreams"???It was quick to read. A few lines were great, made me chuckle, or struck home. But taken as a whole, I just didn't get it.

  • Akylina
    2019-03-10 06:33

    Review at The Literary Sisters.Yoko Tawada is a Japanese author who, in her early twenties, moved to Germany in order to study and has been living there since. A rather prolific author, Tawada writes in both German and Japanese and her works are steadily becoming more and more known worldwide. As a Japanese woman living in Europe, the perspective she offers through her writing is truly unique and very fascinating, as it perfectly captures the feelings of expats without becoming overly dramatic.Memoirs of a Polar Bear is her most recent novel that’s translated from German to English by Susan Bernofsky, and thanks to the wonderful Lizzy I got the chance to read it as part of the German Literature Month, something I’m really grateful for. Coincidentally, the novel was awarded the very first Warwick prize for Women in Translation earlier this month, a prize which in my opinion was very well deserved.Employing the technique of magical realism, the novel is divided into three parts, each one recounting the story of a polar bear, starting with the grandmother (whose name is unknown), moving on with the daughter (Tosca) and finishing up with the grandson (Knut). The first part, “The Grandmother: An Evolutionary Theory”, is narrated in first person by the polar bear herself as she relates her journey from Russia to Germany to Canada and back to Germany. While working at the circus, like all the polar bears of the novel do, she decides to start writing her autobiography, an attempt which renders her quite popular. Language and writing are two major themes which Tawada uses throughout this novel, as the first bear is constantly faced with linguistic barriers, something which might reflect Tawada’s own initial experience abroad. This dialogue of the polar bear with her editor conveys brilliantly this struggle with language:“The language gets in my way.” “The language?” “Well, to be specific: German.” [….] “I thought we had communicated quite clearly that you are to write in your own language, since we have a fantastic translator.” “My own language? I don’t know which language that is. Probably one of the North Pole languages.” “I see, a joke. Russian is the most magnificent literary language in the world.” “Somehow I don’t seem to know Russian anymore.”In the second part, “The Kiss of Death”, we are following Tosca, the daughter’s story. Instead of hearing the bear’s own voice like in the first part, however, here the narrator is Tosca’s human female partner in the circus. Thus, Tosca’s story is initially given through human eyes, but as the relationship between the two deepens further and further, their voices start intermingling and converging and in a way which only magical realism can justify, the woman hears Tosca’s voice in her mind and the words she eventually utters are not her own but the bear’s. Interestingly enough, this intermingling of voices (and identities, to an extent) happens after the woman decides to start writing Tosca’s biography, since, unlike her mother, Tosca is unable to write and communicate with the other humans. I found it particularly intriguing how the woman, who plays such a central role to this part and to Tosca’s life, remains unnamed throughout, just like Tosca’s bear mother in the previous part. IMG_0106The woman’s obsession with communicating with Tosca ends up becoming a setback to her marriage, as her husband feels like the woman has rather lost touch with reality. This reminds me of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, where the protagonist’s obsession with not consuming meat or anything related to it also becomes detrimental to her marriage. Much like in the first part, language and communication become major issues, along with those of identity, femininity and maternality.“Memories of the North Pole”, the third part, introduces us to Knut, Tosca’s son. Once again, Tawada beautifully plays with the narrative voices, as the narration here focuses on Knut and his perspective but is in third person. Later on it is revealed that it was Knut narrating his story all along, but he preferred using the third person even when referring to himself.Like his mother and grandmother before him, Knut is working at the circus. Having never met his mother, he is being raised and taken care of by Matthias and Christian, who also work at the circus. Again, the issue of language ad communication is raised but I felt like the most prevailing theme here was that of family, relationships and familial bonds. Homosexuality is also brought up, since Matthias and Christian become Knut’s “parents” and the parallels to a homosexual couple bringing up a child are easily drawn.Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a short but very rich book. Throughout the novel, there are many hints/metaphors for race (the whiteness of a polar bear’s fur contrasted with the brownness of a normal bear’s fur, which is much more commonly seen), immigration and different cultural backgrounds (the bears live among humans and they are of different species, so perhaps that insinuates different ethnicities?) and all those themes and issues raised could not be more relevant to today’s society.I absolutely adored Tawada’s writing. It was beautiful and I wanted to savour each and every word. Despite its short length, this isn’t a novel to be devoured in a few hours, not only because of all the different themes it’s packed with but also because all the nuances of Tawada’s prose will be unfortunately missed. I definitely feel like I can never praise this book highly enough and my own words fail in conveying the magnificence of this novel. I will end this review with one of my favourite quotes:“And there, in darkness, the grammars of many languages lost their color, they melted and combined, then froze solid again, they drifted in the ocean and joined the drifting floes of ice.”

  • Antonio Delgado
    2019-03-05 12:05

    Mesmerizing! Tawada's surrealistic novel explores human rights and animal rights, and what defines being human or an animal toward an understanding of our interconnected relationship as inhabitants of this planet.

  • Lynn
    2019-02-21 10:18

    I try to be fair in my reviews but sometimes I can't find a single nice thing to say about a book. The story was so unclear that all I could focus on was how confused I am.At first I thought it was just hard to understand because you're suddenly immersed in the world of a polar bear. The further I got into the book, I realized that no, the story contradicts itself over and over. The grandmother's (I don't even remember her name) story was centered around her experiences as a polar bear writing her autobiography. I was willing to suspend my belief for this, but there was no consistency at all. Was she a polar bear with human understanding? Could people communicate with animals now? At times it was like she was a human with a polar bear's description, other times it was like she was an animal people talked to and pretended to understand but there were some things that couldn't be faked. It just made no sense and seemed like it constantly switched. Later on when one of the performers at the circus tried to train Tosca, she couldn't get her to do as she wanted and said, "I couldn't think of any trick that might get her to do what I wanted, and she couldn't be talked into it either, since we lacked a common language."Like can she talk or not???I also had a problem with the relationships between species. There were hints at bestiality that didn't sit right with me. In the grandmother's section she is hit on by a seal or whatever and their mating is suggested and it was just uncomfortable and gross to read. Then later on in Tosca's chapter, there is a performance in the circus called the Kiss of Death where she takes a sugar cube from her performer's mouth and it was banned in one country. Immediately Tosca's reaction is to be furious. "Why should I allow some bureaucrat to determine my roundworm quotient? All animals should decide for themselves how many worms to keep in their bellies for optimal health."Like what? Why was she so insistent on that "kiss," especially if it was deemed she would harm the performer she supposedly care about. At one point in the novel the characters stop by a zoo and just that they still exist in this world is completely offputting. How could zoos exist in a world where there are polar bear writers and seals that run a publishing company? Even that was confusing. The grandmother wrote an autobiography, but later in her daughter's time that seems to be completely unthinkable. "If Tosca were human, of course, she could write an autobiography and have it printed at her own expense. But as an animal, she is doomed to have the pain-filled, female life journey she has embarked on as a bear forgotten after her death."BUT YOUR MOM WROTE HER AUTOBIOGRAPHY.The writing wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good either. The transitions were terrible. I was confused between flashback and present time. The description was so poor I couldn't visualize anything that was happening. There was no distinction between voices except the bear references. The circus itself seemed really boring honestly. I just had too many problems with this book to even finish. I can't. I tried.

  • Ipek
    2019-02-27 10:10

    Power though the few "what the hell is going on" moments. It took me a while to catch up with the story, but once you're through the looking glass, it is magical.

  • Elli (The Bibliophile)
    2019-03-09 09:29

    I’m afraid I didn’t really get on with this book. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy reading it at times. I am not really sure what to say about it, to be honest!

  • Larissa
    2019-02-23 07:23

    A narrative that traces three generations of biographer Polar Bears is a great premise for a book—a playful and somewhat absurdist setup that allows for all sorts of inventive explorations of Otherness and migration. Cleverly, however, Tawada doesn't overly commit herself to the metaphor and/or turn the book into a total 1 to 1 allegory, which allows the story to range a bit further afield than one might otherwise expect and also to dip into other themes: motherhood, maternal instinct, and matrilinial bonding, family building, and sisterhood among them.The book employs a number delightful linguistic tricks and plays with language (due credit to translator Susan Bernofsky, as well as to the author on this count: the name 'Mama-lia' as a play on Mammalia gave me great joy). It also takes some very clever narrative turns, as when the last narrator, Knut, shifts from thinking and speaking of himself in the third person and shifts seamlessly into the first. All in all, this is one of those 'onion books' - there's a lot to digest (excuse the pun) as you peel back its many layers.

  • Ally
    2019-03-03 09:07

    Trying to categorize, or even fully understand, MEMOIRS OF A POLAR BEAR is an exercise in frustration and futility. On the surface (and on the back cover) it is advertised as the fictional memoirs of three generations in a family of polar bears. However, what is really going on is far stranger, more complex, and more muddled than I ever anticipated. Despite the straightforwardness of the premise - fictional memoirs of polar bears - I found the actual story very difficult to make sense of. It is organized in three sections, one for each bear generation, and each section is radically different from each other. The first, "The Grandmother: An Evolutionary Theory", focuses on the earliest of the three generations of polar bears. Although the bear herself is unnamed, the world in which she exists is portrayed in detail...and this is where things begin to get weird. The "grandmother bear" is born and grows up in the USSR, raised by a bear trainer and works in a circus. The world itself is presented in a realist way, but with one crucial difference - animals and humans live amongst each other and can hold conversations. The way that animals and humans interact with each other is so seamless and natural, without a hint of fear or awkwardness. In fact, the polar bear lives in an apartment complex with lots of other people, and visits the landlady for vodka. The bear eventually leaves the circus, attends conferences around the Soviet Bloc countries, and finally decides to write her memoir. A memoir that is published by a man named Sea Lion and his independent press. A memoir that, when it becomes popular, allows the polar bear to live in exile in West Germany and then move to Canada. In Canada, the bear meets her "husband", with whom they have a cub named Tosca and move back to Germany. Part two, titled "The Kiss of Death" is about Tosca and her life in a circus. Unlike the previous section, this is primarily narrated by Barbara, a human who works in the circus and, later, in an act with Tosca. This story is really more about Barbara's life, and only mentions Tosca tangentially. Although Barbara and Tosca do have some form of communication, it is not as outright and prevalent as was the case with the "grandmother polar bear". It is clear that Tosca is a bear - no ambiguity about the species here. The title refers to a circus trick where Barbara puts a sugar cube on her tongue, and Tosca would come and take it from her, thereby appearing as though they're kissing. At the end of the section, Tosca talks about meeting a bear named Lars, with whom she has two cubs - one of which is named Knut. Part three is called "Memories of the North Pole", and explores the relationship between the polar bear Knut and his handler at the Berlin Zoo, Matthias. There is no conversation between these two at all, but sometimes when Matthias is asleep, he dreams about talking with Knut. He devotes his life to caring for Knut, who was born prematurely and needs regular feeding and medical care. Tosca abandoned her cub at birth, and she explains that it was done to allow her to work on her own writing. Matthias creates a bond with Knut that is very much like a mother and her son. Knut is at his calmest and happiest when Matthias is there, and he suffers greatly when Matthias dies suddenly of a heart attack. My experience of reading MEMOIRS OF A POLAR BEAR, especially the first section, was incredible frustration. The presented landscape is realistic and rooted in the world as it really was, yet the characters are a mixture of humans and animals who can communicate with each other. I kept going back and forth about whether the characters were metaphors or not. Was the polar bear writing what I was reading? Was any of this really happening? From one page to the next, the reader is left unsure of exactly what is going on. I actually wrote lots of notes (on sticky-tabs, because I read a library copy) to myself about what I thought was happening at the time, to try and figure it out. I still haven't figured it out. Were the characters all animals? Were they representative of people? Did the characters (especially in the first section) see themselves as animals, but were viewed by everyone else as humans? Was it all of the above? Through this inconclusiveness and intermingling, was the author proposing that animals and humans are really one in the same - not so different from each other? Was it a treatise on animal rights? The "grandmother bear" makes constant references to her "paw-hand" and her "snout", which would seem to indicate animal-hood, but perhaps she is a woman who sees herself in a more animalistic light. Or perhaps the author is invoking bear imagery that is associated with the USSR. There is no clarity or consistency with these references, so the reader is left to make his/her own conclusions. There are so many questions, yet the author doesn't even suggest that one may be possible over another. Where the book truly succeeds is in giving a rich, interior life to a species that are often feared and hunted. The polar bears are shown as having desires, disappointments, needs, hopes, and love. Through this, the reader is encouraged to feel empathy for the three main characters. Where the book fails is in its inconsistent use of the bizarre and ambiguous. There was a lack of internal connection and consistency that hindered the overall story and its impact. I will freely state that I have no problem reading books where I have no idea what's going on. What I do find problematic is where that technique is used as a trope, and doesn't serve (or even muddles) the overall story. If the bizarre is used for its own sake, I don't care for it. That was, unfortunately, my experience in MEMOIRS OF A POLAR BEAR.

  • Cheryl
    2019-03-15 10:07

    Ack, I wasn't supposed to add books to this shelf! But I won this as a prize for the winter readathon at my library, and it does look interesting enough to read, so ok. Read at the most superficial level, the blurb reminds me of the picturebook stories about Larry, Irving, and Muktuk by Daniel Pinkwater. The cover reminds me very superficially of The Night Circus. But of course I'll try to read it for its own merits, whenever I get around to it.

  • Andrew
    2019-02-27 08:34

    A wonderfully written book about 3 polar bears and their lives. If you don't like magic realism or a lack of logic will bother you, stay away. Really though, it's a book about writing and talking polar bears, so I'm not sure why you would expect anything else! I appreciated that it was extremely original and perhaps even a little challenging. A very satisfying reading experience that was at times funny, touching, and sad.

  • brian
    2019-03-23 07:16

    bizarre and very funny. but the third story wasn't as good as the first two, imo

  • Xandria
    2019-03-07 07:35

    The fun thing about Memoirs of a Polar Bear is that it includes 2 real-life polar bears: Tosca and Knut. Keep that in mind when you read the story (I think it's a great tie-in to reality). 3 stars because I often felt a disconnect and found myself quickly reading just to get finished. But the prose gets a 5 star rating from me. Tawada is a stunning writer and uses language in ways that I have never seen before. Her prose is lush and you can just fall deeply into it. Also props to the translator. I have never read a more stunning translation; nothing seemed to be out of place and the flow is incredible. From the USSR to GDR to Canada and back, the location plays an intricate and intimate role in the novel. Tawada inserts commentary on circuses, vegetarianism, animal equality, and socialism. As Knut's life became a statement about global warming, so does the book as a whole. To paraphrase: the cute animals get the attention of the humans in order to make them (us) care about their exploitation at all. The polar bears are each their own individual, with their own struggles, desires, and emotions. Tawada humanizes them even to the point where they are given computers, writing utensils, and access to communicate to others. Each part reads as a novella, one connected to the other. The theme of connectedness whether between polar bear families or the unity of every living creature remains a constant theme.It felt hard for me to connect with the characters and sometimes the repeated themes felt as if they were dragging. The first two chapters were the better ones for me, with the last one feeling as if it wouldn't end. But the lush prose kept me reading further.

  • Elke Koepping
    2019-03-04 05:27

    Höchst skurril. Ein bisschen in der Tradition von Gregor von Rezzori oder sogar Irmtraud Morgner: Tierwesen bevölkern die Welt und leben und handeln genau wie ein Mensch an ihrer Stelle. Ich gestehe, ich fand die Sprache zu distanziert und die Geschichte zu wenig interessant, um es bis zum Ende zu lesen. Bin ca. bis zur Hälfte gekommen und habe es jetzt weggelegt.

  • Jennifer Croft
    2019-03-09 08:33

    Fantastic, particularly Chapters One and Three. Brilliant translation, as always, by Susan Bernofsky. Adored this book.

  • Janice
    2019-03-03 06:10

    I thought I would find this very different read interesting. Sadly, I didn't.

  • Mell
    2019-02-27 11:31

    I selected this book because reviews indicated it was unusual. People seemed to either love or hate it. I really liked it, but found it a bit unevenly written. The narrative is incredibly moving and thought provoking. I'm not entirely sure how to label this novel-maybe magical realism? The bears in all three sections do things like write, read, and talk to other people and animals. The language and words within the writing are exquisite, some of the most lyrically poetic prose I have read. It's really gorgeous. All three sections are hauntingly melancholy. Freedom is a constant theme, as the bears all live in captivity. I personally find zoos and places where animals perform to be incredibly sad and depressing. The book, which is fiction, reinforced my impressions that wild animals living in limited spaces are missing out on essential access to nature and space to roam. Each of the sections had its unique touches, but I found Knut's story to be the most touching and the saddest. The middle section, narrated mostly by a human, was a bit tedious in places. If you can be patient with a slower narrative and some unusual characterizations, this book's beautiful writing and poignant ideas about love, friendship and freedom are definitely worth a read.

  • Conny
    2019-02-27 11:34

    Bei "Memoirs of a Polar Bear" handelt es sich eigentlich um die Memoiren dreier Eisbären – Grossmutter, Mutter und Sohn, wobei es sich beim Sohn um den Eisbären Knut aus dem Berliner Zoo handelt. Im Buch – eher ein Märchen – leben, denken und handeln die Tiere wie Menschen, arbeiten, lesen Zeitung und reisen. Und können dennoch nicht frei entscheiden.Das Ganze kann man nun als Gesellschaftskritik lesen, aber irgendwie bleibt die Sprache distanziert und alles ist sehr skurril. Für mich waren die Geschichten auch zu wenig interessant, um wirklich hineinzufinden. Alles in allem eher zäh.

  • Jess
    2019-03-23 05:20

    I felt pretty meh on this book until the last section – Knut's story. It's a heavily allegorical and metaphorical novel about exploitation, politics, and the complexity of disenfranchisement, but I had a hard time appreciating the characters until Knut. Looking forward to chatting about this one at book club!

  • Sara
    2019-02-23 06:13

    I don't know how I feel about this book. It confused me and saddened me, but it was well written and I finished it because I needed to know how it would end. I loved the characters, the bears and the people/animals around them. The blurring of reality and fantasy, intrigued me and confounded me. I wanted it to be true. It also showed how conflicting human emotions can be. I found out only after I finished the book, that this is a "memoir". Knut was a real bear. You can look it up and see what happens to him, but probably not before you finish the book.

  • Sarah
    2019-02-22 04:11

    Loved the surreality of the hyper-anthropomorphized bears and their human companions! Very sweet!

  • Catherine
    2019-02-20 04:07

    It's not Tawada at her absolute best, but it has passages of that really fresh, exciting language that makes her writing so interesting.

  • Laura Frey (Reading in Bed)
    2019-03-21 04:30

    I might downgrade this to four stars at come point, because I did actually stall in the middle for a while, but overall, this is everything I wanted The Night Circus to be, but wasn't. Also out The Vegetarian'ed The Vegetarian. Love love love. Followed up the last section with watching Knut videos and crying. PMS is great.

  • Alan
    2019-03-14 08:20

    November 15, 2017 Update"Memoirs of a Polar Bear" announced as the winner of the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2017. Read more at, Ice, Baby"Memoirs of a Polar Bear" is the 2016 English translation of Tawada's 2014 German language version Etüden im Schnee (Studies in the Snow) of her original 2011 Japanese language novel 雪の練習生 Yuki No Renshūsei(Trainee in Snow). No details are provided here, but as Tawada writes in both Japanese and German, she probably did her own initial translation as well. The title change in English was presumably made to increase marketability.Even though Tawada provides her polar bears with anthropomorphic (human-like) characteristics, even going so far as to letting them read and write, this is not a cutesy animal fable. It will cause you to think about the issues of animals in zoos and circuses providing so-called "entertainment" and even though their human-like thoughts here would be unlike animal thoughts in reality, you will still have cause to ponder what animals must be thinking.Tawada takes this to the utmost fantasy extreme in her first generation of polar bears, where the Grandmother publishes her own autobiography and is a guest speaker at conferences. This is the most entertaining and unexpected part of the book. The middle generation of Tosca is a more conventional circus bear with the story being told from the point of view of her trainer Barbara. The 3rd generation is Knut who grows up in the Berlin Zoo after being rejected as a cub by his mother Tosca. If the cub's name sounds familiar it is because it is obviously based on the real-life Knut who grew up in the Berlin Zoo under similar circumstances (view spoiler)[(Warning: If you Google the real-life Knut, you will likely get a spoiler for how the story ends, if you don't know that already) (hide spoiler)]. Human names have been changed but many elements of Knut's story are identical. You have just never read or heard it told from Knut's point of view before.So yes it is a fantastical tale, but it is a human story as well. Even if some of the humans just happen to be polar bears.

  • Kelsey
    2019-03-02 12:12

    This book was very odd.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-02 11:31

    I was immediately so curious when this book started showing up on recommendation lists. Described as a strange magical tale of three celebrity polar bears, in translation by a Japanese-German author - it was impossible that I could resist for long.In the first part, an unnamed polar bear, a circus performer turned memoirist, becomes (unwillingly) a symbol for those opposed to the Soviet regime. In the second, her daughter, Tosca, is recruited from her career in the theater by an animal trainer trying to design a thrilling new circus routine. In the third, Tosca's son, Knut, becomes an international celebrity when he is born in a Berlin Zoo.Examining home, identity, creative life in Communist countries, and even translating literature with a melancholic voice that often reminded me of Banana Yoshimoto. Only, you know, with polar bears and circuses. This book was a strange delight.

  • World Literature Today
    2019-02-25 07:18

    "Yoko Tawada fills the audience with expectations and then fulfills them in unexpected ways. 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." - Jacky TidemanThis book was reviewed in the November/December 2016 issue of World Literature Today magazine. Read the full review by visiting our website:

  • Mo
    2019-03-17 08:14

    Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a hilarious and beautifully written/translated surreal novel. It's not a light read. The humor is pretty dark, and there's a lot in the book to ponder about human self-importance, language, performance, how people define "other," and where us/them divisions take us. If the concept of three generations of domesticated polar bears contemplating these ideas in their memoirs is off-putting to you, this probably won't be your thing, but, geez, I loved this book. It's subversive, witty, and strange.