Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Yoko Tawada (Author) Susan Bernofsky (Translator)


The Memoirs of a Polar Bear has in spades what Rivka Galchen hailed in the New Yorker as "Yoko Tawada's magnificent strangeness"--Tawada is an author like no other. Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. In chapter two, Tosca, her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son--the last of their line--is Knut, born in chapter three in a Leipzig zoo but raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo, until his keeper, Matthias, is taken away...

Happy or sad, each bear writes a story, enjoying both celebrity and "the intimacy of being alone with my pen."

Product Details

$16.95  $15.59
New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publish Date
November 08, 2016
5.3 X 0.7 X 7.9 inches | 0.6 pounds
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About the Author

Yoko Tawada writes in both Japanese and German and has received the Akutagawa, Lessing, Noma, Adelbert von Chamisso and Tanizaki prizes. Last year her novel The Emissary won the National Book Award.
Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960, moved to Hamburg when she was twenty-two, and then moved again to Berlin in 2006. She writes in both Japanese and German, and has received the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Goethe Medal.


A distinguished contribution to the unique paranoid style of the new European novel.--Anis Shivani
Her finest stories dramatize the fate of the individual in a mobilized world.--Benjamin Lytal
A writer of scrupulous intensity.
As acrobatic with her writing as her polar bear subjects, Yoko Tawada walks a line between fantastical yet believable.
Tawada bears out the truth that tongues can also bring inventive thoughts to vibrant life.--Steven G. Kellman
Ms Tawada brings her fine-nosed, soft-furred beasts to life... [Tawada] has a deadpan wit and disorienting mischief all her own, nimbly translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.
In 'Memoirs, ' when a polar bear walks into a bookstore or a grocery store, there are no troubles stemming from a lack of opposable thumbs. As with Kafka's animal characters, we are freed to dislike them in the special way we usually reserve only for ourselves.--Rivka Galchen
Tawada asks us to see writing from an unusual perspective: it is like balancing on a ball, or hunting. Thus we're forced to see writing not just as a cerebral art but a physical one, as well.--Chad W. Post
Tawada's stories agitate the mind like songs half remembered or treasure boxes whose keys are locked within.
Tawada's accounts of alienation achieve a remarkable potency.
Tawada masterfully transports the reader to this place approaching transcendence, where language -- so distinctly human, we suppose -- brings us into imaginative intimacy with another kind of being.--Nathan Goldman
Yoko Tawada's whimsical ursine family saga expresses a powerful sense of justice.
In this masterful performance of 'otherness, ' Tawada pushes us to feel the humming possibility between how things appear and what they could be.
Strange, exquisite book.
"Something about the way Tawada writes - and Bernofsky's beautiful translation stays true to this - allows the reader to take the most surreal and fantastical elements of the work completely seriously. Not that this is an earnest text, on the contrary it's deliciously whimsical and playful; but this doesn't detract from the importance of the messages it carries. If anything, it's proof that a different and unexpected perspective can be the most enlightening of all: it's through the eyes of polar bears that we see humanity most clearly."--Lucy Scholes
The empathy for these magnificent bears, from the cruelty foisted on them, of which they are unaware, to the love poured on them by those who care for them just drips off the page.
For all the wonderful workings of plot and structure in Memoirs of the Polar Bear, what is truly affecting is Tawada's writing, which jumps off the page and practically sings.--Juan Vidal
This novel is ''doubly translated'' in the sense that Yoko Tawada first wrote it in Japanese and then translated it herself into German, from whence it was re-crafted into English. It even boasts an additional layer of translating, as it were, since the first part of the book is narrated by a Russian-speaking bear. The story itself follows three generations of polar bears across the world in a powerful tale of both family and isolation.--Lucas Iberico Lozada
Memoirs of a Polar Bear works on many levels, fizzing with ideas on exile, migration and love... questioning what it means to be human.
Memoirs gives us an often funny and intimate perspective on what it must be like to be a sentient bear in an overwhelmingly human world.--Clio Chang