Tuesday, March 18, 2014


A Tale For The Time Being, Ruth Ozeki, Viking Penguin, 2013, 418 pp

I loved this book because after all is said, it was so cool. Besides it various charms, it is about Buddhist philosophy and I have a weakness for philosophical fiction. And I think of myself as a time being (defined in the second paragraph of the first page of the first chapter in the novel as "someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or will ever be.") And the title is a play on words. My father taught me about plays on words and we delighted in making them up, so I am still making them up with my husband and still delight in coming across them.

The two main time beings in the story are Nao (pronounced now) and Ruth. Nao is a Japanese teenager who grew up in the Silicon Valley where her dad was a programmer for a start up but lost his job in the recent economic crash. Now they are back in Tokyo, poverty stricken. Nao's dad is depressed and suicidal, her mother is disturbed and clueless, while Nao is being bullied at school making her depressed and suicidal but trying to get a clue by writing a diary.

Ruth is a writer living on an island in the Pacific Northwest with her brilliant but challenged husband. One day Nao's diary washes up on the shore inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox. Ruth has been trying to write a memoir but has become completely blocked. When she finds the lunchbox, she develops an obsession with Nao's diary and in fact with the girl's existence, fearing that the lunchbox has arrived as a piece of debris from Japan's tsunami.

The rest of the story is about a mysterious connection between these two time beings, so if my overly long synopsis sounds intriguing you must read the novel. It is not a perfect novel. It is uneven at times, there is not exactly a plot, Nao's voice is narcissistic teen angst and Ruth's voice is narcissistic middle-aged blocked writer angst.

In the end, especially due to Nao's 104-year-old great-grandmother who is a Zen Buddhist nun, it all worked for me. One of my earliest life decisions was to live 100 years. Now I am not sure I want to but if that is my fate, I want to be as wise and cool and hip as Nao's great-grandmother.

(A Tale For The Time Being is available on the shelf in paperback at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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