Reading: A Tale for the Time Being

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In the present day, a novelist named Ruth, who, like Ruth Ozeki, lives in British Columbia, discovers a plastic bag on the beach. The bag contains a Hello Kitty lunchbox with three items inside: a stack of handwritten letters, an antique wristwatch, and a diary, a “pudgy bound book with a faded red cover.” The handwriting in the diary is in purple gel ink — the handwriting, Ruth assumes correctly, of a young girl.

Nao, the young girl, is 16 when she writes the diary in 2001. On the first page, she tells us that we are reading “the diary of my last days on earth.”  She is the target of an especially cruel form of ijime…bullying at school.

Nao’s jobless father loses the family’s finances and tries to kill himself by jumping in front of a train. While her father recuperates, Nao is sent for the summer to the temple where Jiko, her 104-year-old great-grandmother, and Buddhist nun, lives. Nao’s original plan is to chronicle Jiko’s life in her journal, but instead Nao writes mostly about her own struggles.

Ruth is fascinated by Nao’s diary. A former New Yorker now living on an island in Desolation Sound. She suspects that the 2011 tsunami brought Nao’s diary across the Pacific. Ruth becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Nao and her family.

That is all I will tell you about the plot.  The book is fascinating! It manages to integrate Buddhism, a philosophical treatise on time (Nao/Now), quantum physics, reality and the unknown…plus I was riveted.  I love a novel with great characters (Nao is fantastic) and that takes me somewhere; a story that I can get lost in.  This one does.  Highly recommended.

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