Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Yoko Tawada, trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2578-6
Written by acclaimed Japanese-German author Tawada, this immersive, dreamy novel follows three generations of a polar bear family—grandmother, daughter, son—as each tries to balance the public pressures of circus performing with the solitary satisfactions of a literary life. In the first section, the family’s matriarch pens an acclaimed autobiography, Thunderous Applause for My Tears, which her agent, a wily sea lion, publishes without her permission. After emigrating to Canada in order to escape the oppressive heat of Berlin, she gives birth to Tosca, whose section focuses on the life of Barbara, Tosca’s innovative animal trainer. In the final section, Tosca bears Knut, an emblem for the polar bear’s plight and the ward of Matthias, his beloved caretaker. When Matthias dies suddenly, Knut must reckon with the renown of the estranged women who came before him, as well as his species’s shrinking place in a warming world. Though the sapien-centric middle portion pales in comparison, the first and third sections present a poignant blend of history and fairy tale, an inventive account of beasts often too humane for their own good. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/05/2016
Release date: 11/01/2016
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