This is the second novel by Ruth Ozeki I have read this year, and I was completely blown away. This book is so much more than a story, and my brain is still trying to process it. On the surface it’s all rather simple: Ruth lives in a small island community on the west coast of Canada. A few months after the 2011 Japanese tsunami, she finds a sealed package washed up on the beach: a Hello Kitty lunchbox containing a diary written in Japanese, an old watch and a stack of letters written in French. Being part Japanese, Ruth can read the diary. It was written by a 16-year-old girl in Tokyo, Nao. Nao started the diary in 2006 to tell the life story of her great-grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist nun. Nao intends to complete this story and then commit suicide.
The three stories: Ruth reading the diary, Nao writing about her great grandmother, and Nao’s own story at the time of her writing become interwoven. Nao has written the diary in order that it will someday be read by someone – a “time being”. The idea that all the stories are shared and linked as if they are happening simultaneously, rather than at three distinct points is overwhelming at times. Like Ruth, I was completely caught up with Nao’s own story and was desperate to find out where she was “now” and to save her. The whole concept of things happening simultaneously in time rather than sequentially and chronologically is beautifully explored and at times I honestly felt quite disorientated. But how wonderful that a book could so gently lead me into that feeling!
I think this book is going to be a keeper and deserving of another read, where I can mark pages that I want to come back to and consider at length, rather than racing through it in order to find out what happens. I highly recommend this book, no matter whether you want to read it just at the story level or perhaps go deeper.