In the wake of the 2011 Tsunami, Ruth, a Japanese-Canadian writer in British Columbia, finds a barnacle-encrusted package containing two narratives: the journal of Nao, an early-2000s Japanese teen, and the diary of a 1940s kamikaze pilot. She tries to establish the reality of these narratives, which include acts of shocking cruelty. Evidence for the veracity of these stories either does not exist, or vanishes. Nao's great-grandmother was once famous, yet no record exists of her. Websites that would seem to confirm facts disappear.
Is history being rewritten? And if so, how? Why?
Ruth Ozeki's sprawling 2013 novel, which won numerous literary accolades, relates events that challenge belief. I never questioned the brutality of 1940s Japanese military training, but I was taken aback that any contemporary school system would tolerate and encourage the extreme bullying experienced by Nao, the daughter of a suicidal computer engineer. These events later veer into what might be described as magic... or something like it.
The book's complex examination of fiction, reality, and the difficulties we have arriving at any definitive truth should boggle and beguile the minds of thoughtful readers. It also does a decent job of explaining Schrödinger's cat without becoming silly, and finding humor and wonder in Nao's perspective, no matter how bleak her life becomes. Her description of the monster outside the monastery where Nao's great-grandmother lives stands as one of the great pieces of descriptive writing in twenty-first century English literature.
It takes talent to juggle Zen, artificial intelligence, Akihabara maid cafés, metafiction, metaphysics, quantum physics, abuse, and time travel in one novel. At times, however, it becomes excessively, tediously, expository-- especially in the final chapters.
Nevertheless, as a Time Being, I couldn't help but be drawn into Ozeki's narratives, and I'm impressed at how well this quirky tale works.