A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING
By Ruth Ozeki
Ms. Hen received an Amazon gift card for her birthday, and she didn’t know which books to buy until she read an article about women writers to read during Women’s History Month. A lot of writers Ms. Hen had never heard of were in that article, so she bought a lot of them, including this one.
She bought the paperback and it is a sizable book. Ms. Hen doesn’t like to carry books that are large around with her because she has a lot of things to carry, but she couldn’t stop reading this, so she bore the extra weight.
This novel is about two people: Nao, a schoolgirl, writing a diary in Japan, and Ruth, who discovers the diary and is reading it on an island in British Colombia and thinks that the package she found was swept ashore by the tsunami. Nao says that she is writing the diary because she is going to commit suicide soon, and Ruth worries about her, even though Ruth does not realize at first that the diary is about the past.
We learn about Nao, a Japanese girl raised in America, who moves back to Japan because her father lost her job. Her classmates torment her because she is a foreigner and is not as wealthy as the other students since her father doesn't have a job. Her father continuously tries to commit suicide, but unsuccessfully. Nao is sent to stay with her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, and learns the way she lives in the temple. Nao initially meant to write the diary about her great-grandmother’s life, but it turns out she writes about her own life.
Ruth reads the diary and becomes obsessed with it. In the package, inside the Hello Kitty lunchbox that swept onshore, was the diary, written in a copy of IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME converted into an empty book, a journal written in French and some letters in Japanese. Ruth and her husband Oliver live in a house on the island where everyone knows everyone else’s business. She is a writer and he is an artist.
There are no hens in this novel, but there are cats, which Ms. Hen loves as well. Pesto, Ruth and Oliver’s cat is a little pest who loves Oliver. Chibi, the cat at the temple, entertains Nao, and keeps the nuns company.
This novel is magical in the way that it opened up Ms. Hen’s eyes to possibilities that she didn’t know existed. The writing and the style of the novel are reminiscent of Haruki Murakami’s writing. It is another world, full of people who are living a positive life, but there is also the dark side of that world. Nowhere is perfect. Ms. Hen felt sorry for Nao, who was raised in sunny California and is thrust into a culture that is foreign to her, but at the same time is her culture.
Ms. Hen has a difficult time writing about things she loves. She is quick to write about a film or a book that she doesn't like, but she puts off writing about things she loves because she wants to be able to do them justice. Ms. Hen loved this book and couldn’t put it down, not just because she wanted to know what happened, but because she loved being in this world. That is what great books should do: they make the reader love existing in the space where the book lives. Ms. Hen was sad to leave this world, but it always exists somewhere.