Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada (Author), Susan Bernofsky (Translator)

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

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.”


“Both a novel of ideas and Knut fan fiction, Memoirs of a Polar Bear is as densely philosophical as it is deliciously absurd, and as playful as it is poignant….To read it is to become polar bear, without being permitted release from the limitations of our humanness.” (M. Milks – 4 Columns)

“This utterly brilliant and absolutely delightful novel by Japanese-born Yoko Tawada, written in German, is by far the freshest take I’ve read on both foreignness and writing in I don’t even know how long–possibly ever.” (Jennifer Croft – Best Translated Book Awards)

“But like those of Bridegroom, the animal characters of Memoirs pursue a hybrid existence, refusing to romanticize the state of nature.” (Christine Smallwood – Harper’s Magazine)

“A writer of scrupulous intensity.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“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 – New Republic)

“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 – New York Times Magazine)

“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 recrafted 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 – Paste Magazine)

“Writing, for Tawada, is solace―the only way for us to do what the bears in this story do naturally is to pull together the pieces and express something innate we didn’t know we had language for. Memoirs’ great triumph is to literalize this process, to replace a metaphysical problem of expression with concrete representation.” (Neil Griffiths – Review 31)

“Tawada bears out the truth that tongues can also bring inventive thoughts to vibrant life.” (Steven G. Kellman – The Boston Globe)

“A distinguished contribution to the unique paranoid style of the new European novel.” (Anis Shivani – The Brooklyn Rail)

“Finely spun bear-tales.” (M.A.Orthofer – The Complete Review)

“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.” (The Economist)

“Her finest stories dramatize the fate of the individual in a mobilized world.” (Benjamin Lytal – The New York Sun)

“Tawada’s stories agitate the mind like songs half remembered or treasure boxes whose keys are locked within.” (The New York Times)

“Tawada’s accounts of alienation achieve a remarkable potency.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“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 – Three Percent)

“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.” (Thomas Michael Duncan – Words Without Borders)

“As acrobatic with her writing as her polar bear subjects, Yoko Tawada walks a line between fantastical yet believable.” (World Literature Today)

“In chronicling the lives of three generations of uniquely talented polar bears, the fantastically gifted Yoko Tawada has created an unforgettable meditation on celebrity, art, incarceration, and the nature of consciousness. Tawada is, far and away, one of my favorite writers working today―thrilling, discomfiting, uncannily beautiful, like no one you have ever read before. Memoirs of a Polar Bear is Tawada at her best: humanity, as seen through the eyes of these bears, has never looked quite so stirringly strange.” (Laura van den Berg)

About the Author

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.

Paul Woodson has lived in both the U.S. and England, received a BFA in acting at Boston University, and has been acting and singing since the age of thirteen. He has recorded over seventy audiobooks, many in the historical romance and Highlander genres, as well as fantasy, thrillers, classics, and young adult titles.

The narrator of over sixty audiobooks, Christa Lewis has been featured in AudioFile magazine and earned multiple Earphones Awards for recording titles that have become Audible bestsellers. Christa is a classically trained actress and graduate of Boston University’s actor training program.

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