January 11, 2015

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

One of my resolutions for the new year was to be mindful about reading books that are worth my time. If a book is boring or just not doing it for me, I plan to put it down and not waste my precious reading time on mediocrity.

Well, let me tell you, this was a fantastic pick for the first book of the year. I want everyone to read this book so we can talk about how fabulous it is. It just continuously evolves and each incarnation is a surprise.

In the beginning, it seems like a cute story about a teenage girl in Tokyo who begins a diary to release into the world to be found by a stranger. That stranger turns out to be Ruth, a woman on an island on the west coast of Canada. The diary washes up on her beach in a Hello Kitty lunch box with some other items.

It begins to get dark. Nao, the girl, is a victim of pretty brutal bullying at school which is supported by the teacher in a ploy to gain status with the kids. Also, her dad is depressed and suicidal. He sends her to spend the summer with her great-grandmother who is a buddhist nun. While living at the temple with her great-grandmother, she learns about her great-uncle who was a kamikaze pilot in World War II.

Then, it gets all kinds of Japanese. There is a magical realism element that reminds of other modern Japanese books I've read, i.e. Haruki Murakami. Reality gets a bit blurred. Throughout all this the voice jumps back and forth between Nao's diary, and Ruth's, who is reading the diary out loud to her husband over the course of several days. She is also trying to find out the truth about the events in the diary. She wants to know if they committed suicide.

At the last, it becomes an exercise in quantum physics. Schrodinger's cat makes and appearance as well as the infinite worlds theory. Just wow.

In the end, all the questions are not answered. The tone is one of hopefulness and peace with the way things are. Ruth doesn't have all the answers, but that's okay.