My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A hypnotizing book. Captivating story. Part three (of four) took a scythe to my insides: it was quite dark and I had to put the book down a few times. The book offers themes of suicide and failure and bullying and emptiness and conscience, as well as layered bit of Zen Buddhism. I don't know anything of Proust, which is a key feature of the book, so I'm not sure how Proust philosophy affects the book (other than how it is mentioned).
I was not thrilled with the introduction of quantum mysticism in the book toward the end. If it had been intertwined into the story I might have accepted it, but it felt as if it was thrown in at the last minute to wrap up the ending quickly. Perhaps if the connection between Zen Buddhism and this quantum mysticism had been made at some point. That said, the book was entirely worth it.
I got within about 40 pages of the end and was hit with a wave of despair that I had been willing come along on this deeply intense ride and there would be zero resolution. However, a great deal of heart-bursting resolution - I nearly burst into tears with the emotional release of one final letter - was given in those final pages. Not every question was resolved, but enough to feel okay about all of it.
Seeing as how I'm grappling with life and death in a hands-on sort of way these days, this was a tough ride for me. But I'm certain the book found its way into my hands for this reason. Perhaps I shall sit zazen one of these days.
There are complaints from other reviewers about the narrow perspectives on Japanese culture that are in this book. But we have to keep in mind that we're only hearing a few voices: a sixteen year old girl who was primarily raised in America; an Japanese-American (or Japanese-Canadian?) writer living in British Columbia; and Zen Buddhist nun; and a kamikaze soldier during the last days of WWII. I did not expect an all-pervasive view of the many facets of Japanese culture.
The book jacket mentions the March 2011 tsunami so much that I thought this would be a key part of the book. It really is not.
The scenes set in the Zen temple were really fantastic. The scene going through the Japanese funeral and death process were quite something.
The descriptions of life on the British Columbia island seemed thin somehow. But I believe this part was only meant to ground us, much like prayer beads. The world of Nao's story is heady and emotional and deeply engrossing and and the technique of coming back to the "real" world now and again works to give us some balance.
I applaud the writer on this accomplishment. Now I want to name one of my cats Pesto.
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