Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki

Summary: 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 first 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 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.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.
Summary and cover art from Ruth Ozeki's website 

My Review: The diary of 16 year-old Nao Yasutani, a Japanese girl, washes up onto the beach of a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Once discovered by author Ruth the diary consumes her, pulling her into Nao's troubled life and impacting her own. It turns out that Ruth and Nao have more in common than what appears on the surface. Nao has been uprooted from her American home and is struggling to fit in with her Tokyo classmates. Ruth has also recently moved from an American city to a remote Canadian island and is attempting to breath life into her latest novel. Both are battling personal insecurities as they attempt to define themselves.

The book, which has been shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize, opens with Nao writing to the unknown reader of her diary. This one-sided dialog, a bit awkward at first, continues throughout the tale. The chapters alternate between Ruth's voice and that of young Nao. This unusual style provides a unique perspective into the altering lives, places, and time of Ruth and Nao. It is quite easy to become engrossed in both worlds.

The opening sentiment states “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.” (p.3).The theme of time is very thought-provoking and certainly plays an integral role in the story. Time is first introduced in a very logical sense but later there is a fantastical play with the idea of time, giving the tale at first an uncomfortable twist that works itself out later on. The tale contains a myriad of themes and ideas to ponder over, most namely resilience following turmoil and perseverance in times of uncertainty but also environmental and social issues. This one would make quite an interesting book club selection.

I listened to this book and thoroughly loved it. Part of the magic arises from the author narrating the audio-book and therefore she reads it exactly as she heard it while writing it. There are several Japanese terms used throughout and the beauty found in the pronunciation would have been lost to me without the author's aid. However the print version contains some unique elements as well including footnotes, varying font styles and sizes that aid in the understanding of Nao's mindset as she wrote, and several appendixes. Both amusing and heart-wrenching this book is equally delightful in either print or audio format.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

To sum it up: A unique novel told in a modern voice about discovering and accepting oneself at any given point through time.

Sensitive readers: There are a few choice words and sexual situations that were important to the plot but may be uncomfortable to some.

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