Title: A Tale for the Time Being
Author: Ruth Ozeki
2013 – Fiction – Contemporary Fiction/Magical Realism
The Story: A Hello Kitty lunchbox inside a plastic freezer bag washes up on the shores of Canada. Ruth is drawn to the lunchbox, so she takes it home, where she and her husband Oliver open it up. Inside, they find an antique watch, packets of letters, and a diary. Through the contents of this lunchbox, Ruth and Oliver are drawn into the story of Nao, a Japanese schoolgirl with a suicidal dad and a Zen Buddhist great-grandmother.
The Opening Line: Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being.
Thoughts: Gonna keep this real brief, due to answering the Fellowship questions below. I loved this novel. It was quirky and fun, heartfelt, touching, sad, profound, and educational all at once. I learned about Japanese culture in bits and pieces, and realized I wanted things in my life that I never existed (go look up a kotatsu and tell me you don’t want one). I was drawn into every single story and invested in every single character. With footnotes and dashes of three different cultures (Japan, America, Canada), this novel made me work for it, but I loved every single minute. A phenomenal novel all around, and one that I would highly recommend.
Fellowship of the Worms Questions
One of the things that struck me about this novel was how quickly Ruth became attached to Nao through her writing. Have you ever found yourself becoming attached to someone you don’t actually know through their writing?
Definitely. I think that’s one of the reasons we read – to find a kinship with the author, someone we can relate to, who shares our experiences. Ultimately, I think we all want to be known and accepted for who we are. Just recently, I read Felicia Day’s new book, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), and felt an instant shock of recognition as she described her upbringing and life experiences. It’s heartening to relate to someone, real or fictional.
How much did you love Old Jiko? Do any of you have an impossibly wise older relative who has shaped who you became?
I love Old Jiko so much and wish there could have been even more of her. Unfortunately, I don’t have that sort of relative, so I’ll continue to take my life advice from fictional characters.
Did any of y’all break down when reading about the bullying Nao went through at school?
Those parts were the worst. I know there are plenty of apathetic teachers, and I realize that school administrators aren’t usually great at curbing bullying, but to this degree? The teacher should have been let go, the administrators questioned, and an official investigation opened. What kind of creep just lets that sort of thing happen?
I feel like we can’t actually discuss this novel without addressing the elephant in the room, suicide. Despite Haruki #1’s kamikaze mission, Haruki #2’s failed suicide attempts, and Nao’s suicidal thoughts, the overall tone remains hopeful. How do you think Ozeki pulled that off?
I think the bleakness of each of those things was ultimately balanced by what Ozeki did write about hope. I have no idea how she pulled it off. I am glad that the “everything gets better” message did shine through, and that Ozeki wrote a story about hope and the kind of impact we can have on each other.
Nao’s narrative finding Ruth is pretty much the ultimate message-in-a-bottle scenario. Have you ever fantasized about leaving your story for an unknown reader to discover? What would you tell them?
I haven’t in a message in a bottle sort of way. But I do always think about how I journal – I try to be conscientious of the fact that someone could read that journal someday. If that happens, I want to be comprehensive, but not whiny. I want to be smart and intelligent and leave something worth reading. Not just daily, mundane things, but a record for the history books.
As always, this has been super fun and I can’t wait for our next book!