A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Adult Fiction pick by Jean-Louis

Time Being(Viking, 2013)

If you are fan of British television, you are likely aware of the Doctor Who phenomena. This series, which has been running for 50 years or so, follows the adventures of a Time Lord known as “The Doctor.” His adventures take him and his companion across the space and time continuum. Ruth Ozeki’s novel does a little bit of the same thing and shows us that we are all “time beings” and never more so than in the pages of a novel.

As well as being a prize-winning novelist, Ozeki is also a film maker and a Zen priest. These callings definitely inform the world(s) she creates in her novel. A Tale for the Time Being has two narrators, a writer named Ruth living on the west coast of Canada and a teenage girl living in Japan. Ruth has discovered a package with a diary and letters along the beach. She speculates that they have been brought to her coastline along with the detritus from the 2011 tsunami which hit Japan. The diary has been written by Nao, a teenager who has taken to her diary to make sense of her life which is in severe crisis.

Both Ruth and Nao are hybrids who live on the edge. Ruth is half Japanese, born and raised in America and now living in Canada. Nao was born in Japan but raised in Sunnyvale California and repatriated to Japan after the dot com crash. For our author Ozeki, the novel is a vehicle to explore time, space, and perspective. How to live within a culture yet also be a foreigner, how to be a writer and a reader, how to live in the real world alongside the virtual world of the internet and social media, how to be alive and yet stare into the face of death–these are all explored in subtle and insightful ways throughout the novel.

Generations of humans have faced these questions and our story provides several layers for us to look through. Nao’s great grandmother Old Jiko is a 104-year-old Zen nun and is a guiding light for young Nao who is struggling to find her place in the world. Caught between cultures, Nao is dealing with severe bullying while also dealing with her suicidal father and disintegrating home life. Patterns repeat and change as Nao (and her reader Ruth) discover letters written by long-dead uncle Haruki, a kamikaze pilot from the second World War.

Writing, reading, and translation by Ruth and by Nao ultimately lead them to understanding. Zen steps and meditation assist them to achieve greater understanding. Make time for your own journey by reading A Tale for the Time Being.

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