The snow has changed everything

Excerpt from The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder.

It snowed again that night. I found I wasn’t at all sleepy, wired from the stress of the afternoon and the strange drink. I took out my manuscript, thinking I would make some progress on my novel, but not a single word came to mind. In the end, I sat by the window and watched the snow through the gap in the curtains.

After some time, I moved aside the dictionary and thesaurus on my desk and pulled out the funnel hidden behind them that we had rigged as a speaker.

“Are you asleep yet?” I asked, my voice hesitant and quiet.

“No, not yet,” R answered, and I could hear the mattress springs squeaking. The funnel in the hidden room was mounted on the wall next to his bed. “What’s happening?”

“Nothing in particular,” I said. “I just can’t sleep.”

The funnel was made of aluminum, dented and quite old. Though I had washed it carefully, it retained a faint odor of spices from its days in the kitchen.

“It’s snowing again,” I told him.

“Is that so? It must be getting deep.”

“It is,” I said. “This is an unusual year.”

“It’s hard to believe it’s snowing just outside the wall here.”

I liked the sound of R’s voice through the makeshift speakers. Like a spring bubbling up far below me. As it traversed the long rubber tube between the two funnels, all unnecessary sounds faded away, leaving only the soft, transparent liquid of his voice. I pressed my ear against the funnel, unwilling to waste even a single drop.

“Sometimes I put my hand on the wall and try to imagine what’s going on outside. It almost seems as though I can sense it—the direction of the wind, the cold, the damp, where you are, the sound of the river, all the vague signs. But in the end, it never words. The wall is just a wall. There’s nothing on the other side, no connection to anything else. This room is completely closed off. All my effort only serves to convince me that I’m living in a cave, suspended in the middle of nothingness.”

“Everything outside is completely different from when you came here. The snow has changed everything.”

“Changed how?”

“Well, it’s difficult to describe. For one thing, the world is completely buried. The snow is so deep that the sun barely starts to melt it when it does come out. It rounds everything, makes it look lumpy, and it somehow makes everything seem much smaller—the sky and sea, the hills and the forest and the river. And we all go around with our shoulders hunched over.”

“Is that so?” he said, and I could hear the springs squeaking again. Perhaps he had stretched out on the bed as we talked. ”Right now, the flakes are quite large, as though all the stars are falling out of the sky. They dance in the shadows and glint in the streetlights and bump into one another. Can you picture it?”

“I’m not sure I can. It’s almost too beautiful to imagine.”

“It’s truly lovely,” I said. “But I suppose that even on a night like this, the Memory Police are out there hunting. Perhaps some memories never perish, even in this cold.”

“I suspect you’re right. And I doubt the cold has any effect. Memories are a lot tougher than you might think. Just like the hearts that hold them.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Memory Police – Summary

Here is the book summary:

On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.

When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.

A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language.

Copyright © 1994 by Yōko Ogawa.

Translated by: Stephen Snyder

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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