In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
When I first read the plot for this book, I was immediately intrigued. There are so many things about this novel that are in my wheelhouse, but the mystery aspect of this book really appealed to me. I liked the idea of trying to discover what happened to Nao through the perspective of Ruth and through Nao’s journal.
In this book, there are two narratives, one of Nao and one of Ruth. I thought both the voices were really distinct from each other and while the stories were very different, it was interesting how there was a common thread between them as well. Ruth found herself and her situation to mirror Nao’s at times, which seemed to be a comment on how even the most different people can share experiences or have similar thoughts.
Personally, I found Nao’s narrative to be more interesting. Her story was just more exciting and had more drama in it while Ruth’s was more mundane. However, the plot was really interesting and it kept me reading to figure out what happened. I wanted to know the story of both women.
All of the characters were really well-developed. They were all distinct and felt like real people you would know. Even the minor characters were well-written and fully-formed. Once again, I found Nao and her situation to be more well-developed than Ruth, but you felt like you were a part of Ruth’s island with how vividly it was described. I also liked how the settings of both the characters seemed to be a character in itself. The juxtaposition of the lights and glamour of Tokyo against the small-town solitude of Ruth’s island was very apparent.
This novel was a Man Booker prize finalist in 2013 and the book reads like it was. It has beautiful writing with some very memorable phrases. The only thing I disliked about this book was the similarity of Ruth the character and Ruth the author. The author chose to use her name, living situation, and family to be the same as the character’s, which I always dislike because I like to separate the book from the author as much as possible.
Overall, this is a really unique, interesting book that I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of literary fiction.