Being the first Zen Buddhist Priest to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize Ruth Ozeki had me intrigued before I had even read a page of her latest novel. From reading the first chapter it becomes rather clear that Ozeki in some way hopes to introduce her readers to the fundamentals of Zen Buddhism in a very subtle and remarkable way. No one should be put of by this, as by using the narrative of a young girl and grown up woman it never feels as if Ozeki is pushing anything on to her readers and it seems more that she is taking a speculative approach.
The entire novel is composed of a washed up diary of a young Japanese girl called Nao, who has relocated back to Japan, and a woman called Ruth who has stumbled across the diary some years later whilst walking on a beach in North America. This structure perhaps provides both the greatest virtue and vice of the novel. The nature of how Nao’s diary has been found will keep the reader gripped throughout the four hundred pages and the use of it as a source of history to Ruth is something few readers will have encountered before. However, due to the highly gripping and intense nature of Nao’s part of the book, Ruth’s chapters can occasionally seem to drag and even in some instances feel slightly redundant. The trouble is where Nao’s life is filled with high levels of conflict and drama, Ruth’s in contrast can often feel a bit banal and you never feel that you know Ruth as intimately as you do Nao.
Perhaps this is a necessary dose of normality and Ruth can be seen as our eyes and ears to Nao’s world, but it would be untrue of me to say the character did not feel at times like an obstacle in the way of a far more intriguing world. You also get the sense that this character is important to Ozeki as at the end of the novel Ruth is turned into a vital component for the entire narrative (not to mention the character shares the authors name).
The two protagonists are not the only absorbing thing about this novel. The gentle introduction to Zen Buddhism and its virtues are fascinating and will not fail in captivating even the most conservative of readers. This alone makes this book one of the ones to read when you graduate.
Rory Morgan, Online Books Editorbookmark me