Memoirs of a Polar Bear – Yoko Tawada

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is the first book by Yoko Tawada that I have read, but I think it will be the last. The book that my book club chose with great enthusiasm, unfortunately, disappointed me greatly. I haven’t read such a messy text in a long time; aside from enjoying reading, I felt like I was working. Unfortunately, Tawada became a writer who tired me and was not worth it.


Memoirs of a Polar Bear tells the stories of three generations of polar bears. However, there are so many confusing elements in the story that I was confused as to what meaning to take from the book. The polar bear in the first episode can speak, write, and even writes her autobiography, and a sea lion prints this autobiography. But the second polar bear, Tosca, can’t even speak, let alone write. How does this world suddenly change? Why does the third bear stay in the zoo in a world with a publisher owned by sea lions?

Memoirs of a Polar Bear - Yoko Tawada

Let’s say they don’t matter; Let’s focus on the message ofMemoirs of a Polar Bear. Let’s focus, but there is no message. Or maybe I missed the message in all the mess of the text. And frankly, after a while, I realized that I didn’t care about the subject or the bears at all.

Did Memoirs of a Polar Bear talk about immigrants’ experiences through humanoid polar bears, and I didn’t get it? Didn’t anyone understand? I do not think so. I wish this book had been written on global warming and environmental problems using the very famous and cute polar bear Knut.

Tawada wroteMemoirs of a Polar Bear based on the polar bear Knut, who became famous at the Berlin Zoo in 2006. When his mother rejects knut, he is raised by zoo workers. After a while, it gains worldwide fame and makes good money for the zoo. In fact, the owner of Lars (Knut’s father) wants to capitalize on Knut’s reputation and wants a share of the money he brings to institutions.

Meanwhile, Knut is the subject of many debates, from global warming to animal rights; Books are written, and movies are made about it. Knut dies at the age of four, and the fanfare ends. There is a sad and scary true story from beginning to end. And I wish I had just read Knut’s story instead of Memoirs of a Polar Bear.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear - Yoko Tawada

Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Memoirs of a Polar Bear stars three generations of talented writers and performers―who happen to be polar bears.

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.”Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Yoko Tawada

Yoko Tawada (多和田葉子 Tawada Yōko, born March 23, 1960) is a Japanese writer currently living in Berlin, Germany. She writes in both Japanese and German. Tawada has won numerous literary awards, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, the Noma Literary Prize, the Izumi Kyōka Prize for Literature, the Gunzo Prize for New Writers, the Goethe Medal, the Kleist Prize, and a National Book Award.

Tawada was born in Nakano, Tokyo. Her father was a translator and bookseller. She attended Tokyo Metropolitan Tachikawa High School. In 1979, at the age of 19, Tawada took the Trans-Siberian Railway to visit Germany. She received her undergraduate education at Waseda University in 1982 with a major in Russian literature, and upon graduation moved to Hamburg, Germany, where she started working with one of her father’s business partners in a book distribution business.

She left the business to study at Hamburg University, and in 1990 she received a master’s degree in contemporary German literature. In 2000 she received her doctorate in German literature from the University of Zurich, where Sigrid Weigel, her thesis advisor, had been appointed to the faculty. In 2006 Tawada moved to Berlin, where she currently resides.Memoirs of a Polar Bear was published in 2014.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear - Yoko Tawada

Tawada’s writing career began in 1987 with the publication of Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts—Anata no iru tokoro dake nani mo nai (Nothing Only Where You Are), a collection of poems released in a German and Japanese bilingual edition. Her first novella, titled Kakato o nakushite (Missing Heels), received the Gunzo Prize for New Writers in 1991.

In 2011, inspired by the story of the orphaned polar bear Knut, Tawada wrote three interlocking short stories exploring the relationship between humans and animals from the perspective of three generations of captive polar bears. As with previous work, she wrote separate manuscripts in Japanese and German. In 2011 the Japanese version, titled Yuki no renshūsei, was published in Japan. It won the 2011 Noma Literary Prize and the 2012 Yomiuri Prize.

In 2014 the German version, titled Etüden im Schnee, was published in Germany. An English edition of Etüden im Schnee, translated by Susan Bernofsky, was published by New Directions Publishing in 2016 under the title Memoirs of a Polar Bear. It won the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. Tawada won the 2013 Erlanger Prize for her work translating poetry between Japanese and German.

In 2014 her novel Kentoshi, a near-future dystopian story of a great-grandfather who grows stronger while his great-grandson grows weaker, was published in Japan. An English version, translated by Margaret Mitsutani, was published in the US by New Directions Publishing in 2018 under the title The Emissary. and as The Last Children of Tokyo by Portobello Books/Granta Books in the UK. In 2016 she received the Kleist Prize, and in 2018 she was awarded the Carl Zuckmayer Medal for services to the German language.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Japanese Literature – A Literary Journey

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