Fiction June 2021: Memoirs of a polar bear

Etüden im Schnee
© Goethe-Institut

Yoko Tawada is a Japanese author who moved to Germany in 1982 and has been calling Berlin her home since 2006. She writes in both Japanese and German. Her book "Memoirs of a Polar Bear" is inspired by the polar bear Knut and its carergiver at the Berlin Zoo, the animal-human pair which achieved world-celebrity status between 2007-2011. 

The story recounts not just the story of Knut, but also its ancestors. The book is divided into three chapters and each devotes to one bear: the grandmother, the mother, and the son. They are depicted not just as animals, but creatures with highly human instincts and characters. So the readers learn not just the lives of the bears as bears in circuses or zoos, but also their distinctive views on socialism, on literature, and of their human carers. The grandmother polar bear, who was given no name in the story, was an intellectual from the Soviet Union. She wrote an autobiography and talked about growing up in Soviet Russia. Later, she exiled to Canada. In part two of the book, the story switches to a human narrative and tells the story of polar bear Tosca, daughter of the writer bear. Tosca is a highly talented and sensitive bear. She performs in a circus in East Germany. Finally, the last part of the book devotes itself to Knut, the polar bear cub rejected by mother Tosca and grew up human-raised in Berlin Zoo. This part is told once again through the eyes of the cub. 
Though Tawada's narrative weaves between dreams and reality, the impression it gives is highly profound and leaves the readers thinking long after the book has ended. 

"Memoris of a Polar Bear" is one of the 100 German Must-Reads selected by DW. 

The German version of the book, "Etüden im Schnee", is available for lending at the Library of Goethe-Institut Hongkong.