“…every being that.exists in the entire world is linked together in moments of time, and at the same time they exist as individual moments of time. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being.” Dozen Zenji, Uji
For the second time in a row I’ve picked a book about a teen who wants to commit suicide. I just completed Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock When I began A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. There is a remarkable literary coincidence as both books are filled with footnotes. Here they are the Japanese words in kanji and in translation or historical notes. Mostly they are very different books, as one is written for teens and one for adult, but both books have teens who’ve been bullied, have no friends and are sarcastic and bright. And both teens have an adult in their lives who cares for them.
The circumstances of A Tale for the Time Being are very different as here two stories are interwoven. One is the story of a Japanese teen who grew up in Palo Alto until the Dot-Com bubble burst and her father’s company went bankrupt and they had to return to Japan totally broke, he suicidal, the mother shamed and Nao becoming the target of extreme bullying by her classmates.
Nao’s narrative is written in the form of a journal that she writes about herself and about her great grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist nun. She is writing to the person who will eventually find it and at the beginning she is writing from a french maid cafe in Tokyo, a sort of cosplay brothel where she goes for coffee. Eventually as things with her father and her own situation deteriorate, she goes to the mountains to spend the summer in the temple with her great grandmother and one other Buddhist nun. She travels there with her father on a bus to the foot of the mountain, and then they have to climb up. During the climb she notices that she has never seen her father so happy. Her narrative continues to be very contemporary and often sarcastic, but she softens as Jiko helps her cultivate her “supapawa” through meditation, battling the waves, work and example.
The other character is Ruth, a writer in fact the writer of this book, who lives halfway around the world on a small island in British Columbia. One day she finds a plastic bag among the kelp on the seashore. In it is a journal, letters and book.. She presumes it came with the flotsam from the tsunami in Japan that killed more than 230,000 people. Part Japanese, and able to read Japanese, she becomes obsessed with Nao’s story and sets out to find her in hopes of preventing the suicide if possible. There are some coincidences that occur as a Jungle Crow arrives on the island. He is not native to British Columbia, but from Japan. There is also a cat in both narratives and the island is home to huge clam and oyster beds, also not indigenous, having been introduced in 1912 and their oyster is from Miyagi where Jiko lives.
Besides Nao’s journal, there are some astonishing letters from Jiko’s son, Haruki#1, who towards the end of WWII, was drafted from the university where he studied philosophy, it actually was closed, and drafted into the air force to become a kamikaze pilot. It takes some magical realism for the strands to come together, but it wasn’t far fetched. The entire book is filled with magic.