Reflective novel set in Denmark, France and Canada
A Tale for the Time Being
Location(s): Canada, Tokyo
One day, about a year after the Japanese tsunami, frustrated author Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach near her island home off Canada’s west coast. Subsequent inspection reveals that it contains a diary written by a teenage Japanese girl, another missive in French, and a still-ticking watch that turns out to have been worn by a long-dead kamikaze pilot.
So begins the “relationship” between Ruth, who shares a first name with Ruth Ozeki, the novel’s author, and Nao, a Japanese girl struggling with bullying and depression. Ruth has no idea if Nao is still alive, or whether the diary has washed up only after its author committed suicide or perished in the 2011 tsunami. Nao, writing for a single, unknown recipient, doesn’t know who is reading her intimate confessions. The unspoken hope is that the two can somehow save each other.
A Tale for the Time Being, Ozeki’s third novel, is an intriguing tale about connections across time, space and cultures. It has a sense of unfolding mystery and philosophical discovery, though the latter is sometimes smuggled in too crudely – like finding Kierkegaard quoted on the back of a breakfast cereal box.
The book successfully conjures up two distinct cultures bridged by a confused but likeable teenager. “Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being,” she announces in the opening chapter, using a Buddhist-inspired reference to “someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
Nao is writing from Fifi’s Lovely Apron, a maid café (staffed by women with “pushed-up breasts and frilly uniforms”) in Akihabara, Tokyo’s frenetic and nerd-infested Electricity Town.
-David Pilling –
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