December 2013 Club

A Tale for the Time Being

Ruth, who like the author Ruth Ozeki, is Japanese-American and living on a remote island in British Columbia with her environmentalist artist husband, Oliver and a cat called Schrödinger aka Pesto. She lives a sheltered, slightly claustrophobia life and longs for the urban excitement of New York. Whilst walking on the beach one day, she discovers the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl, a watch and some letters written in French encased in a Hello Kitty lunchbox protected by mollusk-encrusted freezer bags. Ruth and Oliver believe this flotsam originated from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, most likely caught up in the Pacific Gyre and transported to their Canadian shoreline.

Ruth is soon engrossed in the schoolgirl's diary. It belongs to 16-year-old Yasutani Naoko - or Nao (pronounced Now) for short. The diary is written in a hacked copy of Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. Nao is a bit obsessed by time, as we find out. She also tells us that "handicraft is a superbig fad in Japan, and everyone is knitting and beading and crocheting..." and that she got this hacked book from a"superfamous crafter" in Harajuku.

Nao was brought up in Sunnyvale, California, but when the dot-com bubble burst and her father lost his job, the family were forced to move to a tiny, shabby apartment in Tokyo, her dad has no prospects of finding a job and is suicidal. Nao experiences the worst kind of bullying at school, is referred to as Transfer Student Yasutani by both students and teachers and her treatment culminates in the other pupils conducting her fake funeral and a horrendous incident involving her pants being auctioned online and her father bidding for them. Nao drops out of school and spends her time in a seedy cafe called Fifi's Lovely Apron.

Nao finds some strength and wisdom by spending a summer with her 104-year-old grandmother, Jiko who happens to be a bald-headed anarchist, feminist Buddhist nun and lives in a temple near Sensai. Gradually Nao gets used to the rituals of the tiny temple and has enormous respect and love for her wise grandmother and learns of the bravery of Jiko's son, Haruki # 1, who was a peace-loving kamikaze pilot during the war - the sky soldier watch in Ruth's possession belonged to him.

I'm finding it incredibly difficult to summarise this book and do it justice - there are so many intricacies and clever aspects of the writing, with vast themes including quantum mechanics, dreams, ghosts, the reader/writer relationship, social consequences of the Internet, depression and suicide, environmental influences, bullying, memory, the nature of time, knowing and not-knowing. There were strong animal symbols used too, namely the Jungle Crow and the cat.

But ultimately, for me, I loved the combination of science and philosophy - I was blown away by the twist in the tale - and I was completely entranced by Nao and her story.

Colourway inspiration

Flotsam

For the semi-solid colourway, I wanted to create a deep dark red, like the red cloth cover of the diary and the interior of Fifi's Lovely Apron which has dark red velvet roses on the wallpaper.

Jetsam

For the variegated colourway, I took the deep red, and added a bright red to represent the Hello Kitty lunchbox, some orange for the Pulpy orange juice that Nao liked to drink and some pink to also represent Hello Kitty and the interior of Fifi's which had pink puff tapestry seats.

The yarn base chosen was Flockly - an enticing mix of BFL, cashmere and silk which carries the colours well.