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Yoko Ogawa Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Gift of Numbers (2007) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Hotel Iris (2010) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Memory Police (2019) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Collections

The Diving Pool (2008) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Revenge (2013) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

Color in Fashion (1989) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Yoko Ogawa is a Japanese author made famous by the translation of her novel “Memory Police” into English in 2019. Ogawa was born in Okayama and went to Waseda University. She currently lives with her husband and son in Ashiya Hyogo. While she only came to prominence in the West in recent times, she has been an author since 1988 and has more than forty nonfiction and fiction works published. In 2006, she authored the nonfiction work “An Introduction to the World’s Most Elegant Mathematics alongside the mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara. It was intended to showcase the extraordinary beauty of numbers through dialogue and it became a successful work with both authors and critics.

Kenzaburo Oe who is one of Japan’s biggest literary authors asserted that one of the best secrets of Yoko Ogawa’s storytelling is that she gives expression to the subtlest working of human psychology in prose that is penetrating yet gentle. The subtlety often is in the fact that most of her characters do not seem to understand why they act the way they do. Ogawa works through the accumulation of detail in which she fleshes out her story slowly over time. She presents her readers with an acute description of her usually female protagonist’s feelings and observations. These also include an alienated self-observation common in Japanese society. The tone of her novels varies from the disturbing to the psychologically ambiguous to the humorous and the grotesque. The French film” L’Annulaire” is loosely based on some of her works. The popular novel The Housekeeper and the Professor was also adapted into a movie titled “The Professor’s Beloved Equation.”

Ogawa is an award-winning novelist with more than twenty novels to his name. Some of her notable awards include the Shirley Jackson award and the Akutagawa Prize. Four of her novels have been published and translated into English by Snyder. She is known for writing highly diverse novels which has become something of a trademark. Her novel “The Housekeeper and the Professor” is a charming narrative about number theory while “Hotel Iris” is the sadomasochistic narrative of the affair between a grieving widower and a teenage girl. “The Diving Pool” is a set of novellas about women living very isolated lives since they are unable to connect with others because of sadism and casual cruelty. “Revenge” which she published in 2013 is a mosaic of several novels with recurring motifs, characters, and settings. In “Memory Police” her most popular novel, she makes a philosophical inquiry into the role of memory and the nature of the self. She also analyzes it’s denaturing, erosion and dissolution as people age. With poetic imagery, rich characterization, and a compelling plot, it is an unforgettable novel. Ogawa’s novels are united by a fascination with the grotesque and violence and even an inclination to plunge readers into some type of bizarre hyper-reality. Nonetheless, Ogawa still maintains a calm and restrained style even in the face of grotesque material.

“Memory Police” introduces an unnamed island and an unnamed narrator who dispassionately records the gradual loss of objects and memory on his island. Some of the disappearing items include everyday things such as books, emeralds, candies, calendars and living things such as birds and roses. In the diminishing world, the Memory Police hunt for the people that still have memories of disappeared objects. The narrator’s mother happens to be one person that had such memories though she died in mysterious circumstances after she was arrested by the Memory Police several years before the time of the telling of the story. Contrasted with the narrator’s narrative of what happens in her life is the script of a novel she is writing about a singer that is trapped in disturbing relationship with a teacher, having lost her voice. Then the narrator comes to the realization that her editor is one of the non-forgetful and decides that she has to help hide the man. She seeks the help of the Old Man a trusted neighbor. Their steady friendship and stealthy efforts showcase the enduring capacity to survive and compassion in human society.

Yoko Ogawa’s “The Housekeeper and the Professor” is the story of a genius math professor with a unique problem – since he got hit on the head, his short term memory has reduced to just eighty minutes. To take care of him is a young astute housekeeper who has a ten-year-old son. The professor gets introduced to his housekeeper every morning which results in a beautiful even if strange relationship. While he cannot hold his memories for more than eighty minutes, his mind still remains as sharp as ever, as his long-term memory comes up with elegant equations from the past. The numbers in all of their articulate order show a poetic and sheltering world that the housekeeper and the son are exposed to. The professor can discover the connections between the universe at large and the simplest of things such as the shoe size of his housekeeper. This draws them closer together even as he is losing his memory. The novel is an enchanting story of what living in the present means even as it tackles some curious mathematical equations.

“Hotel Iris” is a twisted love story that is set in a crumbling seaside hotel on the Japanese coast. Mari is a seventeen-year-old working at the front desk whereas her mother is in charge of ensuring the welfare of the off-season customers. But them Mari and her mother have to eject a prostitute and a middle-aged man from one of the rooms and she finds that she is attracted to the deep baritone of the man. This is what will become the first salvo of a long seduction. In spite of the very provincial nature of the setting, the controlling but cool mother, Mari shows herself a keen observer of human desire. She believes the middle-aged man has something she been looking for. The man resides on an island off the coast and makes a modest but proud living as a translator. He is a widower and there has been a lot of rumors claiming that he killed his wife. Mari is soon visiting him on the island and she is soon introduced to a world of pleasure and pain. It is a world in which she is more comfortable than even the man himself. Mari’s mother soon begins to suspect an affair even as Mari is losing her sense of what is desirable and suitable. It is a brilliant novel about the various ways that love and intimacy can be expressed.

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