Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, November 8, 2019

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

Works read so far for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada  - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

During another magnificent book blog event, The 12th Year of the Japanese Literature Challenge I read a wonderfully creative darkly humorous dystopian novel, The Emissary.  By Yoko Tawada, it was originally written in Japanese.  Here my summation of this work

"The Emissary by Yōko Tawada, translated from The Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, won The 2018 National Book Award for Best Translated Literature.  It potrays a Japan after some sort of tremendous ecological decay which causes children to be born weak, deformed with little capacity for positive development.  The older citizens, sixty plus or so, keep getting stronger as they age.  People are triving at 120.  Japan has become completely isolationist.  Using foreign words is illegal. Every thing is just totally weird."

Tawada is one of the very few authors, to my knowledge the only one, to have obtained commercial success and literary aclaim in both Japanese and German.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a very strange, challenging and preplexing book.  It is also tremendously entertaining, politically acute and satrical of much more than I probably grasp about Germany.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear consists of three novelas about the members of a family of Polar Bears, a grandmother, her daughter and her grandson.  They become well known writers, circus performers, enter into intra-species relationships with humans all the while convincingly depicted as bears.  Of course this is a work in the tradition of magic realism.

The first section is devoted to the grandmother, a circus performer living in the Soviet Union.  She writes a successful autobiography.
Section two centers on her daughter, who has moved to the German Democratic Republic, she also works in the circus.  The last section is devoted to the grandson.

There is a lot to ponder in this book.  I think you can see it partially as a commentary on colonialism, an attack on venal publishers, a trashing of the treatment of animals in the circus and much more.

 Those new to Tawada are in for a true multicultural treat.

"Called “magnificently strange” by The New Yorker and frequently compared to Kafka, Pynchon, and Murakami, Yoko Tawada (b. 1960) is one of the most creative, theoretically provocative, and unflinchingly original writers in the world. Her work often deals with the ways that nationhood, languages, gender, and other types of identities affect people in contemporary society, especially in our postmodern world of shifting, fluid boundaries.  She is one of the rare writers who has achieved critical success writing in two languages, both in her native Japanese and in German, the language of the country where she has lived since 1982. Five volumes of her work in English translation have been published by New Directions and Kodansha, and her work has been translated into many other languages. Her numerous literary prizes in both Japan and Europe include the Gunzo Prize for New Writers for "Missing Heels,” the Akutagawa Prize (Japan's most important prize for young writers) for "The Bridegroom Was a Dog," the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize for her contributions to German-language literature, the Izumi Kyōka Prize, and the Goethe Medal."

From Words Without Borders

Susan Bernofsky


Susan Bernofsky’s literary translations include seven works of fiction by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, as well as novels and poetry by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Gregor von Rezzori, Uljana Wolf and others. She chairs the PEN Translation Committee and is co-editor (with Esther Allen) of the 2013 Columbia University Press anthology In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means. She received the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and the 2012 Calw Hermann Hesse Translation Prize as well as awards and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the PEN Translation Fund, the NEA, the NEH, the Leon Levy Center for Biography and the Lannan Foundation

Mel u
Ambrosia Bouseweau

1 comment:

Suko said...

Memoirs of a Polar Bear does sound like a strange, challenging, and perplexing book. This book is on my to-read list!