Festival Memoirs of a Polar Bear with Yoko Tawada and Susan Bernofsky

Yoko Tawada © Heike Steinweg


Goethe-Institut New York

30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

Yoko Tawada © Heike Steinweg

Presented in association with The New Literature from Europe Festival and New Directions

As part of The New Literature from Europe Festival, an annual celebration of writing from across the European continent, German-Japanese writer Yoko Tawada talks about her latest novel Memoirs of a Polar Bear (New Directions, November 2016) with Susan Bernofsky, the acclaimed translator of this new work.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear has in spades what Rivka Galchen hailed in the New Yorker as “Yoko Tawada’s magnificent strangeness”—Tawada is an author like no other. Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. In chapter two, Tosca, her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son—the last of their line—is Knut, born in chapter three in a Leipzig zoo but raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo, until his keeper, Matthias, is taken away . . . Happy or sad, each bear writes a story, enjoying both celebrity and “the intimacy of being alone with my pen.”
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Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1960, moved to Hamburg, Germany when she was twenty-two, and then to Berlin, Germany in 2006. She writes in both Japanese and German, and has published several books—stories, novels, poems, plays, essays—in both languages. She has received numerous awards for her writing including the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Goethe Medal. New Directions publishes Tawada’s work in English translation.

Susan Bernofsky directs the program Literary Translation in the MFA Writing Program at the Columbia University School of the Arts. She is a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow. Her lifelong fascination with German literature began when she first read the Grimms’ fairy tales as a high school student. She blogs about literary translation, and is currently at work on a biography of the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, whom she has been translating for over twenty-five years.