Wow. A book has knocked my socks off for the first time in a while.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is unlike anything I’ve read. It’s the story of a Japanese girl and a woman living in Canada, and explores the meaning of home, family, Zen Buddhism, quantum physics, morality, suicide, conscience, and much more. How a book can cohesively accomplish this is beyond me, but Ozeki seamlessly weaved all of these together.
Nao, unhappy and struggling in her day-to-day life with her bully classmates and despondent father, begins to write a diary. She has decided there is only one way out of her empty life, but before she goes down that road, she decides she must write the story of her Buddhist nun great grandmother, who is more than 100 years old. What follows is a heartbreaking account of her life and struggles, and juxtaposes her former life (in California with her happy, productive parents) versus their depressing reality in Tokyo after her father lost his job.
Meanwhile, on a remote island in Canada, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on shore. Inside of the lunchbox is Nao’s diary, along with other artifacts of her family, which has washed ashore perhaps as a result of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Ruth is a writer whose well of words has seemingly dried up. She becomes increasingly entrenched in Nao’s world and does research to find out if Nao is actually real. And if she is, is she and her family okay? What follows is a completely absorbing story.
There are so many things I loved about this book: reading and learning about Japanese culture, the characters themselves, bits of wisdom about life scattered throughout the book, the aspect of quantum physics… I could go on! I think my absolute favorite thing about A Tale For The Time Being is how invested I became in Nao’s story. Like Ruth, I became completely engrossed in Nao’s world, worried for her, and hoped that she wouldn’t decide to end her life. What’s more is that even as the aspect of quantum physics (which I totally did not fully grasp) and alternate realities became an integral part of the story toward the end, I was still just as invested. Normally something like this would have made me roll my eyes a bit, but I credit Ozeki’s talent as a writer that this addition to the story felt natural and not at all forced.
Gosh, I just loved this book. Highly, highly recommended.