A Tale for the Time Being
Ruth Ozeki, 2013
Amid the garish neon glare of a district of Tokyo known as Akiba Electric Town, sixteen–year–old Naoko Yasutani pours out her thoughts into a diary.
She is drinking coffee in a cafe where the waitresses dress like French maids and a greasy–looking patron gazes at her with dubious intent. The setting is hardly ordinary, but Nao, as she is called, is not an ordinary girl.
Humbled by poverty since her father lost his high–income tech job in Silicon Valley and had to move the family back to Japan, Nao has been bullied mercilessly in school. Seemingly unmanned by his professional failure, her father, Haruki, has attempted suicide.
Nao herself regards her diary as a protracted suicide note—but one she will not finish until she has committed to its pages the life story of her 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun named Jiko.
Years later on the other side of the Pacific, shielded from damage by a freezer bag and a Hello Kitty lunchbox, Nao’s diary washes up on the shore of British Columbia and falls into the hands of a writer named Ruth, who becomes captivated by Nao’s revelations.
s Ruth’s fascination grows, however, so does her sense of dread: Has Nao followed through on her suicidal pledge? If not, is there still time to save her? Or has Nao survived her bout with adolescent angst, only to be swept away to her death by the cataclysmic tsunami of March 2011?
Moved to compassion by the young girl’s words, Ruth ransacks the Internet for a trace of Naoko Yasutani or her father. She finds almost nothing there, but the mystery deepens when she discovers a second document in the same packet: a collection of letters from Haruki’s uncle, Jiko’s son, who was conscripted against his will in 1943 to serve the Emperor as a kamikaze pilot. Slowly Ruth pulls the pieces of the mystery together, learning about the lives of an extraordinary family whose history is both inspirational and tragic.
Day by day, in her quest to save a girl she has never met, Ruth begins to acquire the wisdom that just might save herself. And above all the mystery and drama stands the presiding spirit of great–grandmother Jiko, an Eastern saint whose prayers and paradoxes point the way to a more settled sense of self.
Unflinching in its portrayal of the deep conflicts in Japanese culture, equally incisive in its assessments of the West, A Tale for the Time Being exposes a world on the edge of catastrophe. Simultaneously, with exquisite delicacy and an intimate sense of human motivation, it reveals its characters as kind, compassionate, and worthy of deliverance from the evils we do to ourselves and to one another.
Ever mindful of the small, A Tale for the Time Being also contemplates the large: quantum mechanics, Zen meditation, computer science, climate change, and the nature of being all pass beneath the author’s thoughtful gaze. A novel about both the near–impossibility and the necessity of communication, A Tale for the Time Being communicates a love of life in all its complex beauty. (From the publisher.)
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