A Tale for the Time Being is told through two perspectives:
We are first introduced to a 16-year-old transfer student named Nao Yasutani, who is uprooted from her home in the States and brought to Tokyo, Japan. As if a big move isn’t stressful enough, she has to juggle bullies at her new school, get adjusted to the different cultural customs, and deal with her suicidal dad. With her life falling apart in every way imaginable, Nao decides to end her life. But before she can do that, she decides to share stories about her 104-year-old great-grandmother, Jiko, in the pages of her diary.
The second narrative is that of a writer named Ruth who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. One day, she finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on a beach, and inside is Nao’s diary. Essentially, the book becomes an annotated work as Ruth writes little footnotes at the bottom of the pages, trying to figure out who Nao is and how, if possible, she can help her.
Nao’s voice is particularly perky and upbeat, contrasting with the sad nature of her story. Sometimes it was easier to view her as 12 as she came across very naive and kid-like. Her account was heart-wrenching, but it definitely made for an interesting and compelling read.
There were threads of magic realism laced throughout the novel, which made it harder to decipher fact from fiction.
There’s so much more I want to say about this novel; I think it may become one of my top books of the year. It certainly belongs in the historical fiction genre as it dives headfirst into a rich and complex family history. I would have given it 5 stars had it not been for this particular scene in the last half of the book that I found to be completely off-putting and unlike how I perceive Nao to behave.
Please heed my warning that this book discusses several situations regarding abuse (physical, emotional, sexual.. you name it). There are bullies in every parts of the world, and the ones in Nao’s new school are among the absolute worst.