On a remote island in British Columbia, a Hello Kitty lunchbox has washed up on shore. Ruth, a writer who lives on the island, thinks it could be debris from the 2011 tsunami. As Ruth examines the contents she is pulled into a mystery, and a life that has unfolded in the past on the other side of the world, one that she may still have the power to save.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is an enthralling, beautiful novel about relationships, time, history, and culture. Right from the beginning it draws you in, slowly unfolding and just when you think it can't, it pulls you in ever further.
Nao is the sixteen-year-old author of the diary found Ruth finds in the lunchbox. Living in Tokyo, she is an outcast at her school and she decides to take her own life. But first, she wants to document the life of her 104-year-old great-grandmother, a feminist crusader and Buddhist nun. As Nao writes, her own life unfolds before Ruth's eyes and Ruth soon realizes that she needs to dig deeper and find Nao, to find out what happened to her and see if she can stop her life from ending.
You know how when you find a food you like, you savour it? You eat it slowly, enjoying each and every morsel, drawing it out to the end. That is how you read this book. I usually read a book in a couple of days but this one took the majority of my week.
This book exposes you to Japanese and Buddhist cultures, taking you on a journey through time. I loved how it explored so many different aspects of the culture, from a group of Buddhist nuns to the pop culture of today's teenagers. Readers with very little knowledge of these cultures will still find themselves whisked away to another place.
Ozeki confidently writes the voice of teenage Nao. Though we only know her through her writing, she stands out. Her thoughtfulness and her outlook on life, both good and bad are well developed. Often, teenagers don't come across as teenagers or as too young, but in this case Ozeki captures everything perfectly. In the beginning I questioned the use of footnotes (the book is Ruth telling us about Nao's diary, the footnotes are Ruth explaining words and phrases from Japanese) but as the book went on, I thought it was a great effect.
A Tale for the Time Being is a book that keeps you right there in the moment, which is understandable due to the fact that Ozeki is an ordained Buddhist priest. It is thought-provoking and wide in nature, a standout book.