I was lucky enough to receive this book from Canongate a few months ago, and as soon as I saw the cover I couldn’t wait to write this review. I started with the best intentions and made notes of all my opinions, but then life got in the way. I finally sat down today and wrote an incredible long review, but I made the mistake of leaving the room for a few minutes and when I came back my review was gone. If you have a blog yourself you’ll know how frustrating it is when this happens, however I took a leaf from this book and decided to rewrite it without any regrets. So without further ado, here is the review (2.0).
‘A Tale For The Time Being’ By Ruth Ozeki
4 out of 5 stars
‘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.’
A Tale For The Time Being focuses on how our sense of time right now and of a time in the past are all jumbled together in the time being, and this was executed perfectly.
PRESENT: Novelist Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunch box washed up on the shore of her small town; inside is a diary, a watch and some letters. She discovers the objects belong to sixteen year old Nao from Japan who is going through a tough time. Ruth is drawn into her story and feels the need to help.
PAST: Nao is tormented by her bullies, and spends her days pretending to go to school only to wander around aimlessly. She decides to write her feelings down in a diary, particularly those she experiences in response to her dad’s depression, and her family’s subsequent struggles. To get some respite, she visits her zen Buddhist great grandmother Jiko for the summer, who lives in the remote mountains. Jiko teaches her not to hate, but to live in the present moment. Whilst her great grandmother is distracted, Nao snoops in Jiko’s study. She finds a box of letter’s to Jiko from her son Hiruki documenting his involuntary transition from philosophy student to kamikaze pilot, and they help her put her suffering into perspective.
1943: Letters from Hiruki reveal the torment he experienced from his seniors, who aim to break the pilot’s spirit. The letters describe his feelings as he comes to terms with his imminent death and all he has left behind.
Throughout the story Ruth’s present is mixed with Nao’s old journal entries and the letters of her uncle Hiruki; the past and present all jumble together until it feels like its happening right now. Even the protagonist (Ruth) mistakes the past for the present, as she feels that what happened to Nao is happening now, and that she can do something to help even though it happened 10 years ago. She’s stuck in the time being, where the present and memories of the past all exist at once. I love the use of different mediums in this book. It includes Ruth’s thoughts and feelings, Nao’s diary entries, and Haruki’s letters. We also to get to hear Jiko and Nao’s dad’s input via excerpts of their books and emails. This story was like no other, and although there are some parts which are hard to swallow, it was a really enjoyable read. The book teaches us to be happy in the here and now, and not to live with regrets. It portrays regrets and wishes as a good thing, as Ruth herself said that ‘not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive’.
I recieved this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Canongate!