A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Paraphrased from Goodreads
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.
Unrated (as of right now)
So I have so many different feelings about this book. I finished it about two weeks ago now (from when I’m writing this) and I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts to write a coherent review (contains fairly minor spoilers)
What I liked
Nao’s parts. I’d give them 5/5. I loved her as a character, I found her story sad and compelling, she was a great narrator, and I could really hear her voice.
I loved all the stories in this novel. It’s one coherent novel, but both Nao and Ruth provide lots of narratives about their lives. They were all super interesting and I genuinely enjoyed all of them.
I really liked hearing about old Jiko, Nao’s great-grandmother. She was a great character. I also loved hearing about Ruth’s mom. She was also really interesting and provided good contrast to Jiko.
I loved Ruth’s portrayal of British Columbia. She lives in buttfuck nowhere, BC, and the characters she describes are 100% the people that would live in buttfuck nowhere BC.
Though I didn’t enjoy them per se, there’s a lot of important topics covered in this book, namely suicide. I really enjoyed the exploration of suicide (as morbid as that sounds) and thought it was super interesting. I think it’s really important to talk about everything that happened to Nao, as sad and depressing it was.
I liked the subtle exploration of feminism in the Japanese context. I liked the parts about 9/11 (because I think 9/11 is interesting). This book just had lots of interesting and in-depth layers.
What I didn’t like
Ruth’s parts. I’d give them a 2/5, honestly. I wasn’t a fan of her as much as I was of Nao. I really enjoyed Ruth as a character. I thought she had a lot of complexity and was super interesting. I liked her relationship with Oliver and I thought it was a good portrayal of married life. But not much happened in her parts. I wish there was more about Ruth and her life, rather than her wondering about Nao.
The random surrealism. I liked the part about the crow. I actually thought that was pretty cool and I genuinely liked it. I also really enjoyed the experiences Nao has with ghosts. I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of ghosts, so I enjoyed that part. But I didn’t like Ruth’s dream, or the whole bit about the words falling out of the book. It was too much for me, and it felt out of place in this book. I also didn’t like the ending. I wanted more closure about how Ruth got Nao’s possessions. That part felt rushed and lazy to me.
Also be aware of all the trigger warnings for this book: attempted rape, suicide, hazing, bullying, death, war, child prostitution
Overall, I highly recommend this book. I really enjoyed reading it and was captivated the whole time. If you’re looking for a heavier book to read, this would be it. I also think it’s super important, and everyone should read it.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’ve read this book and your thoughts! xx