> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 20 August 2019
  • ISBN: 9781787300750
  • Imprint: Harvill Secker
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $35.00

The Memory Police

A compelling and surreal mystery story by one of Japan's greatest writers.

A compelling and surreal mystery story by one of Japan's greatest writers.

Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed.

When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?

The Memory Police is a beautiful, haunting and provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss from one of Japan’s greatest writers. For readers of The Handmaid's Tale, Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

  • Pub date: 20 August 2019
  • ISBN: 9781787300750
  • Imprint: Harvill Secker
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $35.00

About the Author

Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa has won every major Japanese literary award. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope. Her works include The Diving Pool, a collection of three novellas, The Housekeeper and the Professor, Hotel Iris and Revenge.

Also by Yoko Ogawa

See all

Praise for The Memory Police

“The Memory Police is a masterpiece: a deep pool that can be experienced as fable or allegory, warning and illumination. It is a novel that makes us see differently, opening up its ideas in inconspicuous ways, knowing that all moments of understanding and grace are fleeting. It is political and human, it makes no promises. It is a rare work of patient and courageous vision”


“It's an age since I read a book as strange, beautiful and affecting… this haunting work reaches beyond…to examine what it is to be human… a remarkable writer”

David Mills, Sunday Times

“In a feat of dark imagination, Yoko Ogawa stages an intimate, suspenseful drama of courage and endurance while conjuring up a world that is at once recognizable and profoundly strange”

Wall Street Journal

“Explores questions of power, trauma and state surveillance...particularly resonant now, at a time of rising authoritarianism across the globe.”

New York Times, pick of the month

“The acclaimed Japanese writer’s fifth English release is an elegantly spare dystopian fable...Reading The Memory Police is like sinking into a snowdrift: lulling yet suspenseful, it tingles with dread and incipient numbness.”

New York Times Book Review

“The fresh take on 1984 you didn't know you needed.”

Washington Post

“Ogawa exploits the psychological complexity of…[a] bizarre situation to impressive effect… her achievement is to weave in a far more personal sense of the destruction and distortion of the psyche”

Alex Clark, Observer

“One of Japan’s most acclaimed authors explores truth, state surveillance and individual autonomy. Ogawa’s fable echoes the themes of George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, but it has a voice and power all its own.”

TIME Magazine, Best Books of Summer 2019

“Ogawa lays open a hushed defiance against a totalitarian regime by training her prodigious talent on magnifying the efforts of those who persistently but quietly rebel... mesmerizingly direct prose.”

Japan Times

“A lovely, if bleak, meditation on faith and creativity - or faith in creativity - in a world that disavows both...The Memory Police truly feels like a portrait of today.”

Wired, Book of the Month

“A work about identity, authoritarianism and self-expression”


“**** An allegorical tale about how we are defined and maintained by our memories. It is easy to fall under the thrall of the exquisite sadness pervading the whole experience”


“Although, at the outset, the plot feels quite Orwellian, Ogawa employs a quiet, poetic prose to capture the diverse (and often unexpected) emotions of the people left behind”

Kirkus, starred review

“Ogawa’s anointed translator, Snyder, adroitly captures the quiet control with which Ogawa gently unfurls her ominously surreal and Orwellian narrative. The Memory Police loom, their brutality multiplies, but Ogawa remarkably ensures that what lingers are the human(e) connections... As the visceral disappears, somehow the spirit holds on.”

Booklist, starred review

“First it’s small things — bells, ribbons, stamps — that disappear from the cloistered Japanese island where an unnamed novelist toils over her next book and worries about her community’s increasing isolation. With the objects go the memory of them: “It doesn’t hurt,” the protagonist’s mother explains to her, “and you won’t even be particularly sad.” Eventually, the “disappeared” things — paper, springtime — grow in scale and value, and the narrator struggles to avoid the clutches of the titular Memory Police. An unfortunately zeitgeisty novel about censorship, oppression, and the gradual compression of experience under autocratic regimes, this is a deeply traumatizing novel in the best way possible.”

Hillary Kelly, Vulture

Related titles