The BUZZ: Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize
The GIST: Novelist Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty freezer bag washed up on the shore near her home on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. Inside, a copy of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time turns out to be a repurposed blank book, where 16 year-old Nao has journaled the tale of her despair in Tokyo, along with an account of her goal to tell the story of her 104 year-old Buddhist nun great-grandmother. A few other items in the bag, an old watch and some WW2 letters written in Japanese, heighten the diary’s mystery. We are uncertain what has become of Nao, as her story is from the not too distant past, and she is clearly contemplating suicide.
The WRITING: With its heavy themes of depression, isolation, and loss, this novel is harrowing at times. But Ozeki, a Buddhist priest, brilliantly manages to saturate these topics with hope, leaving the reader with an understanding that every moment has meaning, especially the painful ones. Nao’s teenage, irreverent voice contrasts endearingly with Ruth’s thoughtful, seeking tone. The author uses a clever literary tool of footnoting the diary to explain current Japanese culture, as the narrator defines unfamiliar idioms and slang for herself. Ozeki examines hundreds of topics without crowding the characters out of their depth.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy it. Halfway through, I was certain I would reread this novel to savor its lyrical explorations of quantum physics, Zen Buddhism, war, family, marriage, and the mysterious march of time.
QUOTE: Every being that exists in the entire world is linked together as moments in 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.
–Dōgen Zenji, Uji