Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky [in Booklist]
Tokyo-born, Berlin-domiciled Yoko Tawada (Facing the Bridge, 2007) returns with another fantastical and entertaining novel that combines a broken family saga, socio-political-environmental enlightenment, a treatise on writing, and bitingly well-placed satire. Seamlessly translated from German by the award-winning Susan Bernofsky, Memoirs of a Polar Bear introduces three such animals and their most intimate humans over the course of three generations as they migrate through three continents as revealed in three chapters.
The progenitor grandmother is the first to walk upright as trained by her human; she writes her autobiography, becomes an international celebrity, leaves her native Russia, and, after multiple immigrations, settles in East Germany. Her daughter, Tosca, trained in ballet, finds her greatest connection in an unusual circus act with her human, Barbara. Tosca’s son, Knut, raised by Matthias in a Berlin zoo, becomes a global sensation and major merchandising opportunity.
By combining real-life elements (Germany’s reunification, immigration challenges, neo-Nazis) and mundane experiences (attending conferences, grocery shopping), Tawada makes the impossible believable; all the while, she educates, even chides her readers about the arrogant failures and blind abuses perpetrated by “Homo sapiens, that idiotic species.”