A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Published by Viking

From the publisher:

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. 

This is one of the more captivating, interesting, unexpected books I’ve read in a long time. A Tale for the Time Being is a book that really intimidated me before I picked it up – I thought it would be difficult to read, too complicated for my brain to handle, and I heard magical realism being used to describe it which is something that almost never works for me. But after some gentle nudging from my cousin, who loved it (hi, Bonnie!), I started reading it. And was totally hooked from page one.

Nao is such a charming, incredibly lovable young girl who is going through so many tragic things all at once. She is bullied relentlessly – and when I say bullied, I mean some of the most hardcore, terrifying treatment of kids by other kids I’ve ever read about – her family has very little money, her father is depressed and suicidal, and the only person she feels she can trust is her great-grandmother, the Buddhist nun. Her life is just really, really hard, and the fact that she is SO hilarious and has such a joyful personality (outside of her own plans to end her life) is such an interesting contrast to the realities of her life. It makes reading her journal so compelling and I could NOT stop reading this book because of it.

Ruth, on the other hand, was mostly boring and I thought a lot of the sections from her point of view could have been cut out. Not all of it – she’s needed as the person who is reading Nao’s journal, thinking about it, reacting to it, etc. – but I would have loved getting even more from Nao if it meant getting rid of some of the banality of Ruth’s sections. But anyway.

There’s a weird sense of urgency running through a lot of the book, because Ruth is desperate to save Nao from herself, yet in reality she’s reading her journal years after Nao wrote it, so she knows intellectually that if Nao did what she said and actually took her own life, it would have happened years ago. Also, Ruth knows that the tsunami hit right where Nao lived, so she may have been killed in the tsunami. Yet even knowing these things to be true, Ruth still feels this intense pull to finish the journal and find a way to save Nao.

Ozeki does some weird things with time and maybe magical realism? that I am not sure I totally understood, but honestly I didn’t even care. I loved Nao to pieces, I loved this story, I loved how ultimately the two stories she was weaving of Nao and Ruth came together, and I thought this was such a gorgeous, brilliant novel in so many ways. I could go on and on about this book but I think the way I should end is just to say – READ IT. Then tell me what you think – I’d love to discuss!


11 thoughts on “A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki”

  1. I have a very hard time reading about bullying, and magical realism also is difficult for me because I *never* can figure out what is going on! So as much as I have heard good things about this book, I will probably skip it!

    1. Yes I have the same issues with magical realism! Honestly I don’t know how much that’s really happening in this book. But it was really, really good. I know you love charming characters as much as I do so I think you might actually like this one. But I totally understand why you’d skip it!

  2. I’ve looked at this one a couple of times and have avoided picking it up because I thought it was probably too smart for me. You’ve sure made it sound good, so I’ll have to reconsider.

  3. There is an obituary making rounds on Twitter right now. A woman wrote it about her sister, who committed suicide, and the two things that stuck out to me was how she wanted to kill herself, and how she was so very funny. Sad stuff.

  4. I know I meant to read this one but, never did. It sounds like a good story but, magical realism isn’t a favorite for me to read.

  5. I listened to the audiobook version, but had to stop when all the magical realism and physics talk came in full force towards the end. Followed along to the audio with the print version, which I think helped make it clear. Or, at least kept my mind from wandering. Still, this was my #1 book of 2014.

  6. If I’d known that there was going to be magical realism in this book, I’d never have read it AND YET it was one of my favorite books of the year when it came out. Nao’s voice is so distinctive and great, and I absolutely loved the way Ozeki wrapped up the book at the end. Actually, I’m overdue for a reread!

  7. I had this one set out to read a while back and then got lured away by shiny new books. Time to pull it back out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s