Don’t be put off by the first few pages of this expansive, wonderful book. What starts with the whiny voice of a spoiled teenager pouring her shallow thoughts into a diary quickly blossoms into a rich story of loss and longing that alternates from one side of the Pacific to the other.
The tale begins when a pink Hello Kitty lunchbox washes up on the beach of a remote island off the Canadian coast and is found by Ruth, a Japanese-American writer and transplanted New Yorker who’s given up big city life for the sake of her husband’s health. Even after years of island living, Ruth finds herself a bit of a stranger in a strange land, not unlike the girl Nao whose mesmerizing diary is one of the mysterious items she discovers secreted inside the lunchbox.
Nao introduces herself as “a time being.” Torn from the excess of Silicone Valley where she was raised when her father lost his job, she finds herself an outcast in Tokyo where she and her parents exist in a cramped two-room apartment. Nao hates everything about her new life. She is bullied at school, tortured by her father’s suicide attempts and friendless.
Things change when Nao spends a summer at the isolated, mountain-top monastery with her her ancient grandmother, reportedly 104 years old. A Tale for the Time Being takes the reader deep into Japanese culture and history and draws a startling picture of World War II as seen through the eyes of Nao’s great uncle, a young, reluctant recruit who reveals that he was taught how to kill himself first before he was taught how to kill the enemy.
This intelligent, highly imaginative and moving story plays with our concepts of time and infuses reality with a mysticism and magic largely unknown and unappreciated in the Western world. A delightful and provocative read.