Nao, a Japanese girl planning to commit suicide, sits at a cafe writing in a journal about the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Across the ocean in British Columbia on a remote island, Ruth finds the journal, among other things, wash up on shore. She wonders if it is debris washed over from the tsunami and begins reading Nao’s diary as she gets pulled into this young girl’s trials and tribulations of being bullied. Ruth is compelled to keep reading, to find out what Nao’s fate is and whether their family is okay.
It’s a bit difficult to talk about this book without giving anything away. So the majority of my comments will have to be saved for the wrap-up discussion after our brunch book club meeting next week. For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. I was completely pulled into the story and up until it got weird.
I enjoyed the footnotes throughout the story, defining and explaining some of the Japanese words that were used. I was startled at times at the level of violence in the bullying that Nao was subjected to and I really couldn’t connect with Oliver, Ruth’s husband who seemed very distant and dismissive. His character wasn’t very likable at all and a lot of that portion of the story involving him I could have done without. That being said, Nao’s dad was made to be a pretty pathetic character but he had a lot more depth and development to him. I did love Nao’s relationship with her great grandmother, who sounds adorable. I enjoyed the moments they had together, teaching Nao how to channel her “SUPAPAWA!” It was also interesting to see the way her Japanese family was depicted, with some fairly typical Asian repression of any kind of feelings and dealing with things that are wrong, like calling a suicide attempt “just an accident”.
The narrative plays with the concept of time because the reader isn’t sure when Nao’s diary was written, and how long after it is that Ruth is reading it. With the alternating POVs in the chapters, it was a bit mind bending at times and got me a bit muddled trying to figure it out. A Tale for the Time Being is definitely one of the more unique books I’ve read in a long time, akin to perhaps Life of Pi in the way it makes you reflect and think long after you’ve put the book down.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5/5 stars)
Available: March 12, 2013
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Read as part of Brunch Book Club with Lost in a Great Book.
Wrap up discussion to come in the coming week.