A Tale for the Time Being is another immigration narrative though this time it’s a reverse immersion. Nao, a 16 year old who is one of the narrators is a Californian girl who is uprooted from life as she knows it and subsequently experiences major disruption to her life when she returns with her family to her ancestral home of Japan. She feels alienated and is a victim of school-grounds bullying. On top of this, her home environment is unstable as her father, who can’t find a job, is depressed and suicidal and she feels like she needs to keep things together but the stress and foreignness is too much and she too becomes suicidal.
There’s a second narrator, Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist who lives in British Columbia and who finds Nao’s diary in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami. She becomes heavily invested in Nao though she has problems of her own.
This book was very different for me because a lot of it felt very foreign. There’s a fluidity between the two narrators who actually never meet and also between them and us as the reader. Then there’s the concept of time. We are told “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.” That’s so powerful. I admit, at some point I thought the book was about to go science-fiction on me,but luckily it didn’t. After I had finished the novel, I found out that’s it’s author, Ruth Ozeki, is a Zen Buddhist priest. That explained a lot.
Another foreignness was the topic of suicide. I’m aware of suicide bombers and the Kamikaze of Japan, but I guess I didn’t realize how much suicide is a part of Japanese culture. This is fascinating because I have grown up considering suicide as a sin, both as a Christian and as a Ghanaian. It’s just a bad death and never have I thought anything honourable about it.
I actually found myself enjoying this book.