Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Yoko Tawada

In this masterful performance of ‘otherness,’ Tawada pushes us to feel the humming possibility between how things appear and what they could be.


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

Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Fiction by Yoko Tawada

Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky

Memoirs of a Polar Bear stars three generations of talented writers and performers. Famous stars of the literary world, the circus, and the zoo, they happen to be polar bears who move human society. In part one, the matriarch, enjoying “the intimacy of being alone with my pen,” accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography in the Soviet Union. In part two, her daughter Tosca moves to East Germany and pioneers a thrilling circus act. And Tosca’s son—the last of their line—is Knut, born in part three and raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo.

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Ebook(published Nov, 08 2016)

Portrait of Yoko Tawada

Yoko Tawada

Contemporary Japanese-German prose writer

In this masterful performance of ‘otherness,’ Tawada pushes us to feel the humming possibility between how things appear and what they could be.


A heartfelt read.

The Press and Journal

In this masterful performance of ‘otherness,’ Tawada pushes us to feel the humming possibility between how things appear and what they could be.


Memoirs of a Polar Bear works on many levels, fizzing with ideas on exile, migration and love… questioning what it means to be human.

The Spectator

Strange, exquisite book.

The New Yorker

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a hauntingly strange concoction of dreamlike fantasy and factual­-based reality. A Kafkaesque exploration of the permeability between the human and the non-human, the self and the other, Yoko Tawada’s enchanting novel also addresses the timely issues of migration, citizenship and climate change.

Lucy Scholes, The National

Playfully direct, dream-like, family saga-with-a-difference…. It is a book which begins as a delightful role reversal rich in physical sensation and whimsy, yet the intense emotion and powerful sense of justice suggest that Yoko Tawada believes that engagement is the most effective method of communicating the distorted mirror through which we look at the world.

Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times

Yoko Tawada opens a space of human-polar bear empathy & solidarity—amusing yet deeply serious… 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

Disconcerting and exhilaratingly strange. With a deft wave of her literary wand, Tawada dissolves the frontier between humans and animals, disorientating us so that we can be more properly oriented towards ourselves.

Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast

For all the wonderful workings of plot and structure in Memoirs of a Polar Bear, what is truly affecting is Tawada’s writing, which jumps off the page and practically sings.

Juan Vidal, NPR

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

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

Ms. Tawada brings her fine-nosed, soft-furred beasts credibly to life… [Tawada] has a deadpan wit and disorienting mischief all her own, nimbly translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.

The Economist

Tawada bears out the truth that tongues can also bring inventive thoughts to vibrant life.

Steven G. Kellman, The Boston Globe

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.

4 Columns

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.

Kyle Paoletta, BOMB Magazine

Finely spun bear-tales.

M. A. Orthofer, Complete Review

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 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

As acrobatic with her writing as her polar bear subjects, Yoko Tawada walks a line between fantastical yet believable.

World Literature Today

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

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

Her penetrating irony and deadpan surrealism fray our notions of home and combine to deliver another offbeat tale. An absorbing work from a fascinating mind.

Kirkus Reviews

Her finest stories dramatize the fate of the individual in a mobilized world.

Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

A distinguished contribution to the unique paranoid style of the new European novel.

Anis Shivani, The Brooklyn Rail

Tawada’s accounts of alienation achieve a remarkable potency.

The New York Times Book Review

Tawada’s stories agitate the mind like songs half remembered or treasure boxes whose keys are locked within.

The New York Times

A writer of scrupulous intensity.

Kirkus Reviews