I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. 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.”
While out walking on the beach in Northwestern Canada, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on shore. In it, she finds a bunch of old letters, a watch, and a diary written by a 16-year old Japanese girl named Nao. “If you decide to read on” Nao chirps, “then you’re my kind of time being and together we’ll make magic!” By her next entry, her cheerful attitude is gone. “I bet you’re wondering what kind of dumb girl would write something like that.”
Nao is struggling. She spent about ten years living in California before moving back to Japan. She feels like an American. Her Japanese classmates taunt her mercilessly, including (but not the worst) holding a funeral for her and putting it online. She lives in a crappy apartment with a distant mother and a suicidal father. She’s thinking about suicide too. But before she kills herself, she wants to write a biography of her great-grandmother Jiko, a 104-year-old Buddhist nun living up in the mountains. Through Jiko, Nao also learns about her son (Nao’s father’s namesake) a philosophy lover forced to be a kamikaze pilot in World War II.
Initially, Ruth is drawn into her story like a bad soap opera. She’s living a (too) quiet life with her artist husband. A struggling writer, she spends most of her days swapping gossip with her neighbors and talking to her cat. No wonder she’s hooked.
But as she reads on, she becomes obsessed with finding Nao, certain the diary she’s holding is a suicide note. The fact that months if not years have passed since Nao first put pen to these papers doesn’t matter to Ruth. She’s sure she can help.
If that were all the book was about, it would be a pretty good book. But A Tale for the Time Being, keeps pushing forward. It’s packed with Buddhist philosophy, a possibly magical crow, fetish cafes, physics, barnacle biology, and the possibility of a Schrödinger’s cat-style quantum event. This book has a lot, and I won’t pretend I even understood it all. But I loved this book. It’s one of those rare books you have to force yourself to read slower because you’re so excited to see what’s on the next page.