A Tale For The Time Being / Ruth Ozeki

On a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, Ruth, a novelist suffering from writer’s block, comes across a Hello Kitty lunchbox that has washed ashore. Tucked inside is the diary of a sixteen-year-old girl. Once Ruth begins to read the diary, she is quickly drawn into the story it imparts. I was soon captivated by the fascinating tale as well. Nao Yasutani, the girl in question, is a loner, a troubled adolescent trying to deal with issues she has no control over. While Japanese, she has spent years living in California, moving back to Japan as a teenager after her father lost his high-tech programming job. Things have not gone well for the family upon their return. Her father is unemployed, depressed, and suicidal. In school, Nao is violently bullied by the other students and has decided to end her life. But before she does, she decides to recount the story of her great-grandmother, a 104-year Zen Buddhist nun. But while that is her intent in writing the diary, what she focuses on are herself and her father. Ozeki masterly weaves together three separate stories in the book—Nao’s, her great-grandmother’s, and Ruth’s. It is a spellbinding tale, but the book is not without its faults. While the author does a fairly good job of capturing the voice of a sixteen-year-old girl, there are times when it does not ring true to my ears. Ruth’s husband, Oliver, seems merely a convenient font of knowledge, used to drive the plot forward. I found Ruth’s musings on quantum mechanics and the theory of the infinite number of simultaneous universes to be unnecessary additions. And so too is the crow with possible magical powers. These minor quibbles aside, the story itself captured my full attention. Ozeki takes on big themes in this novel, and for the most part succeeds in the task. It is a book that I believe will be equally enjoyed by adolescent and adult readers alike.

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