A bear´s account of life in the Soviet Union

Memoirs of a Polar Bear, by Yoko Tawada, is the story of three polar bears that outlive each other during the life and collapse of the Soviet Union. Fractions of three lives and the ridiculous world that surrounds them. A beautiful satire, because the three of them have to find the way to act out their lives in absurd settings: the matriarch goes into exile after writing her autobiography, the daughter spends her days as a circus star, and her son is born captive in a zoo.

Even though the characters are bears, they are so well crafted the reader can see them as human beings. The book is filled with allegoric meaning. Thoughts meander through censorship, extinction, human rights, cultural change, literature, violence, survival, the working class, multiculturalism and how much time we have left on this planet, both as individuals and a species.

The way people amuse themselves through entertainment changes radically from one generation to the other. The circus –under State censorship– is the stage for a large part of the novel. But in the third part the zoo becomes the setting and it´s not the State, at least not in a direct way, who gets to choose society´s heroes, the job falls on mass media.

How does entertainment shape culture in today´s world?

Today's entertainment takes place mainly in Internet. These are pictures, music and stories offered that act quickly and effectively on the hormones. Consumers became entertainment addicted. And they expect the same effect from the old-fashioned genres like the novel or the theater. I do not want to ignore the digital world, because we live in the present, but I personally would like to write the literature that does not work fast and effective, but slow and long term.

What happened to art under State censorship?

I deeply mourn the poets who have been arrested, killed or died in prison. They've hidden thought stones in their lyrics and it's our issue to dig them out. Ambiguity, irony and allegories as procedures not only protect us from the power of censorship, but also from our own stupidity. These are cultural heritage.

What happens to literature –and life– when it’s built around discontinuous fragments, and not a single narrative moving towards a climax.

There are many lines of development in the present. We live a story that ends in nationalism. We are living another story that will end in an environmental catastrophe. But we also live another story in which people are getting much older than before, so they look at life differently. It's important not to be locked up in a single story. For this the fragments are very helpful.

Yoko Tawada will talk about Memoirs of a Polar Bear with Ana Cristina Restrepo on Saturday February 2nd at 12:00 in the Sofitel Hotel, Salón Santa Clara.