Ruth Ozeki had finished A tale for the time being and was about to turn it in to her publisher when the Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit in March 2011. She decided then, she says, that the world had changed- she had written a pre-earthquake book and this was a post-earthquake world. The only way to deal with that, she thought, was to “break the fictional container and put myself on the line as the character in the book” – how else to use fiction to deal with such a devastating reality?
Problems arise when an author puts herself into the book insisting on the seriousness of the real world she inhabits. Ruth’s (the character and the author) sincere seriousness, particularly as it plays out in the conversations between Ruth and her naturalist/environmentalist husband, is a drag on the book’s momentum. The real energy is in the story of the Japanese girl Nao and her grandmother the Buddhist monk Jiko.
As Liz Jensen says in her review, the book is “a vast, churning basin of mental flotsam in which Schrödinger's cat, quantum mechanics, Japanese funeral rituals, crow species, fetish cafes, the anatomy of barnacles, 163 footnotes and six appendices all jostle for attention”
Impressive, yes, but there is something not quite right about the mechanics of the book. It doesn’t, strangely enough, feel thought-through. Maybe Gert would have liked the original version better.