I picked up A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki based on recommendations of a few bookish friends with whom I generally share reading tastes, but honestly I wasn’t sure about how I’d like it. I’m don’t know why I had that feeling, but I am glad I disregarded my intuition, because I enjoyed this book a lot.
The novel is told in alternating narratives, sort of. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of the British Columbian island where she lives with her husband. In the lunchbox are a collection of letters and a diary of a young Japanese girl, Naoko (Nao), and as Ruth begins reading the diary we read along with her.
Nao begins the diary out of a desire to tell the story of her 104 year-old great-grandmother Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun, but it becomes a heartbreaking account of her struggles with being bullied at school and with her suicidal father. As Ruth reads further along in the diary, and as she uncovers the meaning of the other items found in the lunchbox, she is taken over by Nao’s unknown fate. As the lunchbox washed ashore about a year after the horrible tsunami hit Japan, she needs to know if she is still alive and if she can be rescued.
Frankly, I didn’t see much in Ruth’s story but I loved reading Nao’s diary. I had obviously wrong preconceived notions about Japanese schoolgirls being nice and obedient, and reading about what Nao had to endure at the hands of her classmates was awful. I had some other preconceived notions of Japanese culture as well that were negated after reading this book, but they are minor spoilers so I will not go into those.
The ending gets into some quantum physics which went way over my head but it didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the novel. I’m glad I read it.