One is the experimental nature of the text; Tawada has set herself the hard task of composing three literary études, or, three acrobatic exercises in performing polar bear identities. As such, the slippage between animals and humans that characterises the first section – the polar bear “sells” her work to an editor of a literary journal, who, although human, is more akin to an animal; “moist and slippery” like a seal, he goes by the name Sea Lion – becomes more rigid as the story progresses; the borders between them gradually more and more clearly defined.

But, very smartly, Tawada breaks away from the mind of a bear for the middle of the book, using a human circus worker to tell most of Tosca’s story.

“There had been a phase before my childhood began,” she writes, “one in which no clock ever ticked. In a novel largely concerned with self-identity and isolation, these changes serve to demonstrate the disconnect between all individuals, even ancestors and their descendants. Out of the three, … Perhaps the most captivating examples are the descriptions of the stage tricks that the animals perform: My spine stretches tall, my chest broadens, I tuck my chin slightly before the living wall of ice, unafraid. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more. Reviewed in the United States on February 6, 2020. That’s what defines a mammal. The novel’s three chapters follow successive generations of polar bears: Knut (a real-life famed inhabitant of the Berlin Zoological Garden), his mother Tosca (a real-life performer in the German Democratic Republic Circus), and his unnamed (and imagined) grandmother, who achieves fame by writing a successful autobiography. I couldn’t stop looking up. There was no end to it. Enjoyable, interesting read, though it starts to get tedious at moments because of the switching trope (I would have read a whole book from the first narrator/bear).. Behind the fence I heard someone say: ‘Look! As Leslie Adelson writes, Tawada’s work is well known for its attention to cultural globalisation, surrealist aesthetics, irony, and translation. Still, she finds a way to communicate with at least one human, but she is only able to do so through a strange sort of thought-transmission in a dreamlike state. Rather, any readings of Kafka’s animals must be attentive to the particularities of each and every animal narrator’s story, voice, history, anxieties and dreams. His work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Little Fiction, and The Good Men Project, among other places. Although still relatively unknown on this side of the anglophone world (Memoirs of a Polar Bear is Tawada’s fifth book to be published in the US, but only her first in the UK), Tawada has three decades of experience publishing bilingual work across various genres and forms: plays, poems, novels, short stories, translations, and literary criticism. Something Like Breathing – Angela Readman. For the grandmother, snow is accessed only through her flights into autobiographical writing, but even then she is confronted with a different kind of snow: “A snowfield blanketed my field of vision […] The white surface before me wasn’t a snowfield, it was a blank manuscript page.” Here the anxieties of writing are prompted by the urge to narrate memory. Cruel children use what might be considered racial slurs, like “snow child” and “snout face.” Even other animals are offended when Knut admits to never having been to the North Pole.

But … And another. For Tawada, then, language is “not natural for us, but rather artificial and magical.” This is particularly so for the bilingual author’s given second language, which Tawada thinks of as being considerably harder to bend and fold, harder to put to use. Her perspective helps paint a complete picture—reminding us, when they perform together, that the human is “the smallest, weakest, and slowest of all the creatures on stage”—especially because she too is marginalized and exploited in ways that both overlap and diverge with the bears. This specific moment will certainly be uncomfortably familiar to people of color living in the United States, who are all too often asked to explain where they are from, as if their skin color alone casts them as outsiders. The bears serve as critics of deceit—complete with the ability to smell lies—and proponents of emotional simplicity. Happy or sad, each bear writes a story, enjoying both celebrity and “the intimacy of being alone with my pen.”. Lucy Scholes is a freelance reviewer based in London. Many things that humans take for granted as normal or commonplace can be presented as strange or bizarre though the eyes of a polar bear. This was particularly so for those short stories—such as The Metamorphosis and A Report to an Academy—in which Kafka made strategic use of nonhuman narration. The problem arises when her publisher friend (a man called Sea Lion, but not actually a sea lion) serialises her writing without her knowledge. We strive to be a platform for marginalized voices and writing that might not find a home elsewhere, and to lift up new voices alongside those of more established writers we love. Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a short and wonderful book that’s an interesting mix of reality and fantasy making it a surreal read. Find all the books, read about the author, and more. In the end it’s a surprisingly small story, but that’s not a bad thing. Snowing! Welcome to The Rumpus! The financial crisis has gotten so desperate that it’s even giving Knut a headache.’” In Memoirs of a Polar Bear, then, the post-Soviet “thaw” is definitely not good news for a snow-seeking polar bear. Knut wishes to escape this burden but knows that he cannot.

Ordinarily they would have just shot me, but I got lucky and was assigned a desk job in the circus’s administrative offices. It also analyzes reviews to verify trustworthiness. At least give some thought to the meaning of the words. This book actually is the story of three generations of a polar bear family, taking place in both the Soviet Union and Germany (before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall). I imagine picking up this book, seeing the title, and wondering why the main character’s life is compared to a polar bear’s. For Knut, the need for a mother’s milk represents dependence on the past.

. Bring your club to Amazon Book Clubs, start a new book club and invite your friends to join, or find a club that’s right for you for free. To either side of me, the little white leaves flew past like autumn leaves in a storm. Halfway through Knut’s chapter, he meets the zoo’s sun bear and engages in a conversation. Tears belong to human sentimentality. It isn’t a battle. Gregor Samsa, then, is not a crude allegory for Oedipal familial struggles but is instead an actual person who registers the shock of becoming an insect. Too assiduously. There was a problem loading your book clubs.

In the third and final chapter of Yoko Tawada’s whimsical and wise novel, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, a young bear named Knut ponders mammals’ need for milk: What I wondered […] was why mammals were created in such a way that they cannot survive without their mothers’ milk. No indication is ever given … At one particularly telling moment, for instance, the grandmother’s new publisher reads a sentence of hers and exclaims “Weltliteratur!” On the other hand, the grandmother’s story also asks its readers to think imaginatively about the particular strangeness of a polar bear’s experience of life inside human society, and the ways this strangeness is registered in the polar bear’s own idiosyncratic relationship with writing. Another reason for the title Memoirs of a Polar Bear is that Tawada’s original German formulation remains rather enigmatic to English readers: Etüden im Schnee, which translates as Études in the Snow, with “étude” signalling a difficult musical exercise that, when practiced enough times, sharpens the musician’s abilities. The novel’s eldest bear describes writing as a “dangerous acrobatic stunt.” In Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Tawada executes this stunt with the effortless grace of a seasoned circus performer. After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in. Then the hypothetical reader gets into the first paragraph on the first page and realizes this isn’t a metaphor at all. This income helps us keep the magazine alive. Only the Grandmother, then, is a memoirist in the specific sense of the word. Strange but not uninteresting. A newborn bird, for example, can survive without his mother if his father brings him tasty worms to eat. It just gives you a different perspective on humanity and how humans treat and interact with one another. He struggles to find meaning in his own orphan-dom: abandoned by his mother, who refused to nurse him, he is raised in a Berlin zoo by a human zookeeper named Matthias who “made milk flow from his fingers,” and whom Knut loves desperately until the day he, too, disappears. A bear speaking in the third person? Brilliant little lines illuminate how a literary bear’s mind might work, like when the grandmother bear is aghast at someone abstaining from sweets, saying, “What would I use as a metaphor for the best part of my life if there were no longer any sweets?”.

I covered my head with my arms and tried to breathe quietly.

Fairly quick read if you have nothing better on your list. In Memoirs of a Polar Bear’s second section, perhaps the novel’s most complex staging of interspecies commingling, Tosca’s story is unfolded via a series of narrative twists and turns that test the reader’s attention: at first, the reader assumes that it is Tosca’s trainer, Barbara, who is narrating her experiences of working with Tosca in the circus, but we later find out that it is in fact Tosca using Barbara’s first-person voice.

In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography.

Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. The English, carried over from German by translator Susan Bernofsky (though Tawada wrote the novel first in Japanese and translated it into German herself), is idiosyncratic, sensuous, and quick, with the delightful lightness that Calvino, in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium, calls “weightless gravity.” Tawada’s language strives in the same direction as the polar bears: away from the burdens they must bear, which include even subjectivity itself. Snow, then, is more than just a keyword. It’s easier to enter eagerly and without irony into stories of non-human animals who speak, stand, laugh, and love before one absorbs cultural assumptions about other animals and our difference from them. Do they both take winter river swims? Fiction reading is rare for me, so consider that in reading this review. Her daughter, Tosca, appears to only be able to communicate in dreams, although she works with other circus-performing bears who are in a union, which implies an ability to communicate. The grandmother observes, “I began to realize that my fate and the fate of human rights were inextricably entwined.