A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Published by Viking
From the publisher:
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
This is one of the more captivating, interesting, unexpected books I’ve read in a long time. A Tale for the Time Being is a book that really intimidated me before I picked it up – I thought it would be difficult to read, too complicated for my brain to handle, and I heard magical realism being used to describe it which is something that almost never works for me. But after some gentle nudging from my cousin, who loved it (hi, Bonnie!), I started reading it. And was totally hooked from page one.
Nao is such a charming, incredibly lovable young girl who is going through so many tragic things all at once. She is bullied relentlessly – and when I say bullied, I mean some of the most hardcore, terrifying treatment of kids by other kids I’ve ever read about – her family has very little money, her father is depressed and suicidal, and the only person she feels she can trust is her great-grandmother, the Buddhist nun. Her life is just really, really hard, and the fact that she is SO hilarious and has such a joyful personality (outside of her own plans to end her life) is such an interesting contrast to the realities of her life. It makes reading her journal so compelling and I could NOT stop reading this book because of it.
Ruth, on the other hand, was mostly boring and I thought a lot of the sections from her point of view could have been cut out. Not all of it – she’s needed as the person who is reading Nao’s journal, thinking about it, reacting to it, etc. – but I would have loved getting even more from Nao if it meant getting rid of some of the banality of Ruth’s sections. But anyway.
There’s a weird sense of urgency running through a lot of the book, because Ruth is desperate to save Nao from herself, yet in reality she’s reading her journal years after Nao wrote it, so she knows intellectually that if Nao did what she said and actually took her own life, it would have happened years ago. Also, Ruth knows that the tsunami hit right where Nao lived, so she may have been killed in the tsunami. Yet even knowing these things to be true, Ruth still feels this intense pull to finish the journal and find a way to save Nao.
Ozeki does some weird things with time and maybe magical realism? that I am not sure I totally understood, but honestly I didn’t even care. I loved Nao to pieces, I loved this story, I loved how ultimately the two stories she was weaving of Nao and Ruth came together, and I thought this was such a gorgeous, brilliant novel in so many ways. I could go on and on about this book but I think the way I should end is just to say – READ IT. Then tell me what you think – I’d love to discuss!