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Publisher's Summary

Memoirs of a Polar Bear has in spades what Rivka Galchen hailed in the New Yorker as "Yoko Tawada's magnificent strangeness".

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 best-selling 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."

©2014 Yoko Tawada; translation copyright 2016 by Susan Bernofsky (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"An absorbing work from a fascinating mind." ( Kirkus)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Beautifully crafted

A rare find and quite possibly one of my top picks for the year.

This novel is deeply symbolic and portrays complex processes through an innocent soul's language. What I admire the most is the disintegration of the elements of traditional English literature. This is largely the most common critique of this novel (for some reason). True, it is not a tactfully placed story arch and dramatized climax embellished with sprinklings of foreshadow and metaphors. But I think you should appreciate that aspect most of all as the overarching theme is the celebration of Eastern culture in its attempts to interact with Western views. Rejection of this novel for its dissociation of "normal" is only natural to traditional western readers.