The Thoughts That Make Us: Why You Should Read “The Memory Police”

More than a thrilling mystery

Living in a time where we can take photos and videos in an instant enables us to hold on to cherished memories more easily. But what would happen if we suddenly stopped caring about them?

Related: Live the Fantasty of Running Your Own Bookshop with This Cozy Read

Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police is a novel that forces us to appreciate the value of something central to our very beings despite its nebulous nature: memory. With the help of translator Stephen Snyder, the book tells the chilling tale of an island where a mysterious, unexplained force causes its inhabitants to forget various objects, causing them to “disappear”. This disappearance is then violently enforced by the titular antagonist: the Memory Police.

In the age of AI, deep fakes, misinformation, and fake news, the war against historical revisionism and those who actively engage in it has just gotten much more difficult. Ogawa offers a view of propaganda and censorship that pierces straight into the heart for an extremely memorable and important read. 

Loss as Indifference

While the book’s blurb on the back cover is a relatively accurate summation of its overarching plot, the actual narrative of The Memory Police might be different than you expect. The descriptor “draconian Memory Police” may summon in your mind images of civilians standing in helpless anguish as the oppressors commit their evils. 

In the world of our unnamed narrator, the “forgetting” isn’t something that is felt. In fact, it is something that one identifies by the notable absence of feeling. When an object “disappears”, the islanders simply wake up to discover that an object (like a flower or a vegetable) that had previously been a huge part of their lives no longer has the power to elicit any feelings from them. They no longer feel any connection to them, no matter how central the object was to their waking moments. Then, the islanders are compelled by this lack of feeling to destroy the objects’ remains and the Memory Police do their rounds to ensure nothing is left behind. Eventually, the memories of the object (its appearance, its use, and even its name) completely vanish. 

Why Caring Matters

The unique premise of this novel makes for an emotional reading experience, in spite of how nonchalant the attitude of the protagonist is towards the disappearances. This cognitive dissonance evokes the old adage: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” and speaks to the heart of what propaganda and misinformation does to us. 

Bad things happen all the time, and sometimes the only healthy way to cope is to ignore them or not think about them. However, this desensitization can lead us down a dangerous path – one where we no longer question why things are happening and start only being concerned with how to move on. But if we only take action when the things that we personally care about are being directly affected, by then it might be too late to do anything at all and there will be no one left to stand with you. 

Should you read The Memory Police?

Aside from being a well-crafted narrative that will hurt you and keep you wondering why things are happening and what will disappear next, it is unfortunate that this piece of art mirrors a dark part of our current reality. Today’s youth and its technology has the capability to keep the memories and stories of what’s most important to us alive. Remember: our memories are powerful. They are what make us.

Don’t forget that this coming 25th of February, which falls on a Sunday this year, is the EDSA People Power Anniversary.