Zen philosophy meets Quantum Physics meets Reality.
A freezer bag washes up on a beach in a remote island somewhere in Canada. A hello kitty lunch box. A composition notebook written in French. A watch that doesn’t work. A diary with a Proust cover. And a tale for the time being written in purple ink. A tale written by a sixteen year old Japanese schoolgirl, sitting in a French Maid cafe. A tale she says is about her 104 year old great grandmother Jiko, but one that is more about herself. A tale she wants to tell someone before she commits suicide.
The Nao part of the book was gripping. A teenager uprooted from the Great American dream and thrown into Japan again. She’s a misfit in school, tortured by her classmates in unbelievably shocking ways. A father on the verge of losing it, a mother struggling to keep the show running. And the comfort she finally finds in her 104 year old great grandmother and her dead grand uncle. I wonder which Haruki was sadder, the present day one with the deafening conscience who reads philosophy books and makes origami insects out of the pages and joins suicide clubs or the young Haruki on the suicide mission during WW2. The theme of suicide looms large throughout Nao’s narration, disturbing and heavy.
The Ruth part was painfully boring. For starters, I hate the name Ruth. It only reminds me of a stiff old fashioned woman in black stockings and a high collared shirt. This Ruth wasn’t exactly that, but she was so boring. There was no emotion in her part of the story. Yes, she was consumed by Nao’s story and worried for the girl, but even that was so stiff and starched.The husband and wife relationship was so formal and awkward, they seemed more like a student and her HOD, discussing garbage gyres, native crows and Schrodinger’s cat. Not that intellectually stimulating conversation between a husband and wife is not allowed, but it was so bleh and academic. Also, there somewow seemed to be no love between them, with her complaining about everything from his illness to life on the island to his cat or getting possessive and confrontational when he understood Nao’s predicament more than she did. In managerese,I could say that Ruth doesn’t offer any value add to the story.
I have to skip analysing the Zen parts. I’m too simple minded to get Zen. That dream scenario went over my head. I have to skip analysing the Quantum physics parts. I’m too unintelligent to get Quantum Physics. I did understand Schrodinger’s cat though, thanks to Sheldon Cooper. There was a lot of Japanese peppered into Nao’s narration, too many footnotes to check. Otaku, Hentai, Ijime, Hikikomori : some of the words that continued to disturb me throughout the book. Japan, you twisted country, if what Nao writes about your people is true, you scare me. I would have liked more closure, more answers. Less Ruth, more Nao. But overall I liked the book. I’d try another Ruth Ozeki sometime soon