Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Memoirs of A Polar Bear

The 12 books in 2017 challenge continues with book #4 (falling slightly behind pace). My book selection was 2016 fictional book Memoirs of A Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada (translated from German by Susan Bernofsky).

This book is an interesting one. In many ways it's almost like a collection of three interconnected short stories, and because of it's writing style, symbolism and allegorical style probably has a number of unique interpretations.

On the surface, the story is about three generations of Polar Bears, with each part of the book reflecting the story of one of the polar bears written from their perspective.

And here's the thing, when I say written from their perspective, I have no idea what I'm really saying because it's not even entirely from their perspective. It's somewhat of a metaphysical world.

Here's a "for example," the first part of the book becomes a famous writer telling her own story of growing up in the harsh conditions of soviet Russia, and eventually getting rescued when the soviets begin discriminating against artists and writers and she is able to escape to Germany where she live in a small apartment and is given a stipend for writing.

And in a way, this crazy first part is the most abstract where the world of humans and animals morph in almost an animated-style Zootopia world (or perhaps Tawada is shooting more for Animal Farm).

Part two and three are different. Two has more of a lucid and poetic tone and as the longest of the three parts sort of lost me a few times. The writing is poetic and lovely but is by far the least narrative and looses that bizarre tone and style that made the first part captivating.

And finally, Part Three. In the interest of protecting future readers from too much detail, it seems that the book doesn't shy away from rooting itself in an adaptive telling of the story of Knut, a famous German polar bear who was rejected by it's mother and bottle fed by a human. This part is for the most part the most narrative, as if a project was to write the story of Knut from the perspective of Knut.

Having not been aware of Knut's story, this was interesting and this last connection to the real world kept me engaged and fighting to finish this to the end.

The curious telling of this story is simply intriguing so at times when it didn't fully captivate me, I was still compelled to see what Tawada would do next and where this was all going.

Will probably not look at a polar bear the same again, and perhaps this even changes the way I would see a circus or zoo experience as well, regardless of the animal.

I can't say I walked away saying "this is for everyone" but was an adventurous read.

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