The Captain’s Log – the memory police (Yōko Ogawa)

Ahoy there me mateys!  Matey Sarah @ hamlets&hyperspace had an awesome review that led me to this amazing read.  She said:

The writing and the translation (done, I believe, by Stephen Snyder) are beautifully done.  It doesn’t seem like anything special at first, and I don’t recall any passages that made me think: ‘I need to save this for my review!’.  But at the same time it kept me consistently engaged despite the slow pacing and plot.  It whisked me away and offered me an escape.  Albeit, to a rather depressing sort of place, but I often had a hard time putting it down and found myself eager to keep going.

In this book, an unnamed protagonist lives on an unnamed island where things like perfume, ribbons, birds, etc. are randomly disappearing.  People wake up in the morning knowing that an object has been irrevocably and completely lost.  With each item’s disappearance comes the loss of all memories relating to the object.  The Memory Police is tasked with making sure that every single object relating to the lost memories are destroyed.  The citizens voluntarily burn the banned items or throw them in the river to be swept away.  But there are some exceptions.

Ye see not everyone loses their memories.  These few fight to keep the objects that hold sentimental or intrinsic value.  The Memory Police are determined to find and eliminate the rule breakers and those things they hold dear.  The people who lose memories are not bothered by the loss of objects or the missing recollections.  They are however upset by the arrest and subsequent deaths of their loved ones.  So a hidden underground has emerged to save the memory keepers.  The unnamed protagonist is a writer who learns that her editor can remember and is determined to save him.  So she helps him hide.

The premise is rather simple in structure but is divine in execution.  The language and imagery is absolutely stunning.  The storytelling is slow, melodic, and ultimately captivating.  It is both otherworldly and yet vivid in terms of evoking the sense of a tangible place.

Part of this surreal nature is because characters don’t have names, just descriptors.  And yet the characters were endearing and well-developed.  In addition, the author does a fantastic job of juxtaposing the difference between those with memories and without.  Those without are desperate to cling to those objects and thoughts which contain parts of their ideas of self.  They believe that both memories and objects can be reclaimed with hard work.  The Memory Police can be overcome.  And yet those who have memory loss are baffled by the angst about the disappearances.  Life goes on and people adapt.  The fear of the Memory Police is just something to endure.  I absolutely loved how the three main characters of girl, editor, and old man showcase the complexities of this situation.

Another element that added to the unreal sense of place were some magical realism type choices.  The weather, time, food, memory, etc. don’t always follow reasoning as ye normally experience it.  As the book progresses, reality warps a little bit more in both subtle and unsubtle ways.  Yet these elements are deftly used to enrich our understanding of the world, the philosophical issues of the society, and the attachment to the characters.  Seriously I adored this translation from the Japanese.

I also loved the ending.  It is abrupt, unsettling, and yet seemed completely right.  But the lack of answers and the nature of it will not satisfy everyone.  Also there is a story within the story (the girl’s manuscript) that I also loved.  Some may see it as a distraction or unnecessary.  This book was weird, wonderful, and absolutely perfect for me.  Arrrr!

Side note:  Some reviews say this is an Orwellian book.  While it be a dystopian, the focus is not on the totalitarian aspects of the government but instead on the world-building and the concepts surrounding memory.

Goodreads has this to say about the novel:

On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses – until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with no power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.

When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath the floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her wiring as the last way of preserving the past.

To visit the author’s Goodreads page go to:

Yōko Ogawa – Author

To buy the novel please visit:

the memory police – Book

To add to Goodreads go to:

Yer Ports for Plunder List

14 thoughts on “The Captain’s Log – the memory police (Yōko Ogawa)

  1. It’s interesting that you and I and apparently Sarah too felt that it started slowly, and maybe even continued slowly, but nevertheless gradually became spell-binding.


    1. This was so well-writtten, if odd. It’s has been nominated for the Longlist, National Book Awards 2019 for Translated Literature. Of course I have read none of the other books on that list. But I do hope this gets more love. It was wonderful.
      x The Captain

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aye! So good. And I want to kinda squee about it. But it be weird and so I don’t know many people who would love it. I think ye will at least find it worthwhile. But I be crossing me fingers for love. Arrrr!
      x The Captain


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