The Book Beat reading group selection for January is Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada. The Reading Group will meet on Wednesday, January 31st at 7pm in the Goldfish Tea Room (117 W 4th St #101, Royal Oak, MI 48067). Reading Group selections are discounted 15% at Book Beat. For more information, please call (248) 968-1190. All are welcome!
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.”
“Tawada masterfully transports the reader to this place approaching transcendence, where language ? so distinctly human, we suppose ? brings us into imaginative intimacy with another kind of being.”
– Nathan Goldman, Full Stop
“[T]he 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
Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960, moved to Hamburg when she was twenty-two, and then to Berlin in 2006. She writes in both Japanese and German, and has published several books—stories, novels, poems, plays, essays—in both languages. She has received numerous awards for her writing including the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Goethe Medal. New Directions publishes her story collections Where Europe Begins (with a Preface by Wim Wenders) and Facing the Bridge, and her novel of Catherine Deneuve obsession, The Naked Eye.