Book Review: The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

“People—and I’m no exception—seem capable of forgetting almost anything, much as if our island were unable to float in anything but an expanse of totally empty sea.”

Yōko Ogawa, The Memory Police

Title: The Memory Police
Author: Yōko Ogawa
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 274 (Hardcover)
Published: January 26th, 1994

My Rating: ★★★★¾ 
Read: 9/27/2022 – 9/30/2022


Though I wouldn’t quite label this Orwellian, The Memory Police certainly was haunting. 

Somewhere in the ocean off Japan, there’s an island run by the Memory Police who can make objects (and people) disappear forever at a whim. One day there are birds, the next day they’re ordered to be set free, and soon enough, the people of the island can hardly recall the word ‘bird’ let alone what they looked like or any memories associated with them. Disappearances are a common occurrence and compliance is expected. Most people are able to erase their memories without effort. Unfortunately for those few who can’t, it means their lives are in danger and they must go into hiding. Such is the case for R who is hidden by the unnamed narrator of the book. 

Lacking in world-building, we don’t learn exactly how the Memory Police operate, only that they are stoic figures who think nothing of barging into people’s homes and tearing the contents apart in search of disappeared items or evidence of resistance. We don’t know how these people came to power, what their origin is, or how long they’ve been in power. It’s been a while at least, and several hold out hope that they will someday be the ones to disappear. 

The story itself has a slow pace for a dystopian novel but it worked for me. Less focus on the technicalities of this universe allowed for a lot of attention on the characters. I especially loved the narrator’s friendship with the old man. Their scenes were my favorite parts of the book. I also liked R’s efforts to try and get the two to remember items they’d long forgotten, even if it’s just one of the associated memories. 

The narrator is a novelist and some sections of the book follow the book she’s writing. While these passages give a deeper look into the narrator’s mind and how she’s internalized life beholden to the Memory Police, I would have traded them for more world-building. So many questions go unanswered. Perhaps this is fitting for a book about people losing their memories (and in turn knowledge), however as a reader, it’s difficult not to crave more build-up for a full understanding of the islander’s lives. Nevertheless, the ideas of this book — manufactured memory loss — are too intriguing not to enjoy. 

Likes & Dislikes:

What I liked:

  • The Memory Police concept. While haunting, it’s a theme that makes you think. Could something like this be possible way in the future? In the age of the internet, stories are written and rewritten so many times that the truth gets lost in the jumble. Could the same apply to objects? (Another example is the Mandala Effect.)
  • The characters. Their rapport with each other was enjoyable as well.
  • The descriptions and psychology of the disappearances.

What I didn’t like:

  • The lack of world-building and context. I would have had more empathy for the situation with more knowledge of the situation. By the time we meet the characters, most of them are fairly indifferent to what’s happening.
  • The romance. It didn’t fit.


I enjoy books that make me think, so I enjoyed this a lot. If not for the world-building issue, it would have been an easy five stars for me. I was still tempted to give it the full since I did enjoy it a lot, but it was too glaring an issue and I felt too ambivalent.

Where to buy the book:

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