A Canadian novelist finds a diary of a 16-year-old girl from Tokyo washed up on shore after the 2011 Japanese tsunami
❖ “A Tale For the Time Being is a multi-era, multi-genre, multi-themed, multi-culture, multi-plot book. In it you will find World War II, origami, fetish cafes, the Japanese tsunami, quantum physics, Hello Kitty and ecological collapse. The story is told of nuns, Buddhist priests, writers and readers, teenagers, anarachists and people of various race. They talk about memories, death, philosophy, what it means to be female, depression and writing.
This sounds suffocating but actually what it’s about is a 16 year old Japanese girl called Nao who wishes to end her life but decides to write the story of her ancestor first. Years later the diary, inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washes up on the shores of Canada where it is discovered by a writer named Ruth. The writer is intrigued to know what happened to the girl and begins a search, as she reads the diary, investigating and developing the relationship between reader and writer.
Ruth’s quiet sensible life on the Canadian shores contrasts with Nao’s more philosophical nature, questioning existence and time. In her diary she details her life with her unemployed, depressed father and emotionally absent mother. Nao is cruelly bullied at school and finally breaks free by moving to live with her great-grandmother, Jiko, an elder;y feminist nun living in a mountain temple observing Zen qualities of life.
I helped Jiko to her feet and we walked back to the bus stop together, holding hands again. I was still thinking about what she said about waves, and it made me sad because I knew that her little wave was not going to last and soon she would join the sea again, and even though I know you can’t hold on to water , still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.
The scope of the story is like the giant flotsam that washed the lunch box ashore, so very vast and made up of a milieu of things and ideas. Somehow all that stuff resulted in one simple item being carefully deposited upon land to be discovered.
Or you could say that this is simply the story of a writer reading the diary of a girl who has captured her great-grandmother’s life. How much of that flotsam you gather up and take on board is up to the individual reader, but be aware, the content has the potential to sail you along on the tide or drag you under.
In our cases it was close. Suzy gave it 4 stars, Rachel 4.5.