I read these two subsequently, one right after the other, and I completely did not intend to keep reading on the same them—but they do follow the same theme in many ways. A Tale for the Time Being alternates between two viewpoints—Nao, a Japanese girl in living in modern Tokyo, and Ruth, a writer living with her husband in a small island off of the coast of British Columbia.
Ruth finds a message in a bottle diary in a Ziploc on the beach, which belongs to Nao, who just moved back to Japan from Cali & is suffering culture shock, bullies, a suicidal dad, and recruiting from prostitutes escorts. It’s a tough life in Tokyo.
It’s hard to explain what happens without giving the whole thing away. As Ruth reads, we read—as we react, we often switch back and watch Ruth react. It’s all very metafiction. I’m having Borges flashbacks from college. Let’s just say that it’s not a coincidence that the author’s name is Ruth—it’s supposed to be all sorts of intertwined in what’s real, who’s reading who, and what the relationship is between reader and writer.
I absolutely loved the first two thirds of this thing. Nao’s great-grandma, Jio, is a Buddhist monk & yet all sorts of hip & feisty; the Japanese culture is fascinating and disturbing in parts [just like American culture, I suppose]; the perspective on the earthquake in Japan in 2011 was really humbling, since that was just a blip on my news radar, and yet it was such a huge deal for so many people.
I really lost it in the last quarter, though—I felt like Ozeki was trying to stick too many ideas in the same novel. All of a sudden we’re talking about Schrodinger, and we’re getting some sci-fi/fantasy action, and lots of coincidences, and physics, on top of all our philosophy and history and Japanese culture—and it just got a little out of control.
But overall, I would absolutely, completely recommend it. You can tell that Ozeki is a filmmaker, too—so many of the scenes feel like scenes. I can picture exactly how this would look in a movie, and I would not be surprised to see this made into a feature film in a couple years. Four stars: wholeheartedly recommended with shrugs about the ending.
[edit: I received this copy from NetGalley in return for a fair review]