I had been looking for an audiobook to replace Ana Castillo’s So Far From God as my task 19 for Read Harder. I still plan on reading Castillo, but I had more books to read to wrap up my challenges than time to read coming up. I replaced two books with audiobooks and hope to be able to get everything in. This is my new pick for a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey.
There are actually several characters of color who go on spiritual journeys. A Tale for the Time Being has two protagonists, both are women of color and then some second tier characters have their own spiritual journeys as well. The book opens with Nao, who I would call the main protagonist. She is one of those characters who live between cultures and is therefore harder to understand and has a harder time relating to people of either culture. She’s lonely at school where she can’t relate to other students who grew up in Japan, but also at home. Her parents have enough of their own issues that they don’t have the awareness to deal with hers, until Nao’s issues practically hit them in the face.
Ruth is the other protagonist. This part of the story is a little more familiar for Western audiences despite that Ruth is a protagonist of color. Also of Japanese heritage, she takes a special interest in Nao’s diary after it washes up on the shores of her local beach in Canada along with other items from Japan. The assumption around town is that these items were washed away in the tsunami that had hit Japan in 2011. More than anything else that has washed up though, this diary and the few things with it are more personal to Ruth. Her character arc and spiritual journey is just as pronounced as Nao’s as she searches for what may have happened to Nao.
For me, Nao’s journey is by far the more interesting one. She goes through so much and her family had been through so much. There’s also a magnificent shifting of perspective and the way they know and see each other. Its a multigenerational kind of story that has several beautiful layers but also several horrific and triggering scenes. Some triggers to expect in this book are suicide and suicidal thoughts, rape, bullying, depression, and child prostitution.
With triggers like that, I was also surprised to find the rather perfect way it resolved. There’s some magical realism that comes into play, but it had been there from the beginning too. And perfect does not mean that life goes on as if nothing ever happened, quite the contrary. There are still mysteries left to the story too, but these are the kind if mysteries that are true to life. Sometimes we just don’t get to know about some things we are looking for. I rather liked that.
Altogether, it’s one of my favorite books this year.
I borrowed it from my library but it can also be added to Goodreads for later or find some worldwide purchase options by clicking on the cover image above.