A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being

Book Club Kit - 2013
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"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." 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.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2013
Characteristics: 10 books (422 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.) in a plastic box

Opinion

From Library Staff

2016 selection

WINNER
In her newest work, she revels in Tokyo teen culture--this goes far beyond Hello Kitty--and explores quantum physics, military applications of computer video games, Internet bullying and Marcel Proust as well, all while creating a vulnerable and unique voice for the 16-year-old girl at it... Read More »


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l
lydia1879
Jun 25, 2017

I should let you know that I have a pile of library books so high it almost reaches my bed and every time my wife passes it, she laughs. An exchange between us would start something like this:

“Sweetheart, you have how many books out from the library at once?”
“15.”
“And how many of them have to go back in two weeks?”
“Some.”
“I’ll leave you to read then, shall I?”

So, uh, I generally read more than one book at a time. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t get confused between characters and actually like the change of pace. If a character annoys me, I just put down the book and pick up a comic.

How many books have I started and not finished in my life? Probably thousands.

So, when I say that I picked up this book and didn’t put it down till I finished it, library queue be damned, you’ll understand that it means a lot.

A Tale for a Time Being is a book that leaves me aching.

At first glance, it seems terribly cerebral. A woman named “Ruth”, who lives in B.C. finds a Japanese Hello Kitty lunch box on a beach, and therein lies a diary of a Japanese girl, along with some letters and an old watch. I was expecting this to be some hugely intellectual, sprawling story about Buddhism and the exploration of the self, because the author’s name is Ruth who also lives in B.C, but it was so much more emotional and beautiful than I could’ve hoped for.

It’s hard to explain how this book affected me, or to even articulate its plot without spoiling it, but Ozeki really made a lot of the characters come alive on the page. Even her side characters were well-developed, which was a welcome surprise.

I was just… enraptured by this book, I was swept up in the story the same way someone would be taken by an ocean wave. Even if parts of it felt dramatic or staged, I was so invested in the characters that I didn’t care. I found the author’s writing to be so palatable and lapped up page after page, chapter after chapter.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, because for me, that was part of the pleasure of it but I will say there are frequent and sometimes graphic references to suicide, bullying and sexual assault in this book. They are the parts of the book that are the most visceral and the most appalling but not altogether unbelievable.

Her writing came to life, somehow, until I was tasting grilled eel, feeling the full strength of a Tokyo summer and running my fingers over scars on someone else’s skin as if they were my own. Perhaps Ozeki’s most masterful skill is her ability to create distinct character’s voices — Naoko, a young, miserable Japanese teenager, someone who is so burned by the world she’s determined to become a vengeful ghost and haunt everyone who ever hurt her. “Ruth”, a writer who’s unsettled by everything, even herself, who says things she shouldn’t, who sinks her teeth into Naoko’s diary and her past the way a hungry man eats, compulsively, protectively, worried there’s not enough.

There’s little stopping me from reading all of Ozeki’s works, except that if I do, there won’t be any left until she writes another and I don’t know if that’s a future I want any time soon. So for now, I’ll pace myself until I pick up her next novel and brace for the oncoming storm.

s
sgcf
Mar 30, 2017

The exploration of many divergent ideas intrigued me in this rather plotless book – quantum mechanics, Buddhist philosophy, duality, and particularly time in all its aspects. For example, after Japan’s tsunami “… stone markers were found on the hillsides engraved with ancient warnings: Do not build your homes below this point.” They were speaking across time but people didn’t listen, and the author asks: What is the half-life of information? Does it correlate with the decay of our attention? Just one tiny example of many ideas to contemplate throughout. My favourite character was the old Buddhist nun, Jiko, who shows gratitude to everything (even toilets) and who resonated with me when she said, “Life is full of stories. Or maybe life is only stories."

t
tlvanapeldoorn
Mar 14, 2017

Ruth an author living on an island in Pacific Northwest finds a diary, letters written in French, antique wrist watch in a Hello Kitty lunch box diaries and letters are owned by Nao a young Japanese girl.
Nao is uprooted from her home in Us and moves back to Tokyo. Her father is fired by his IT company for standing up for his ideals. She is bullied in her Japanese school. Interesting in that the book flips back and forth from locations as well as time periods. Nao is a teen facing 9/11 event. Now it is at least 10 years later when her letters are discovered. Nao writes her story and as well tries to write about her 104th year old activist nun Great Grandmother. Family is dysfunctional., father is suicidal. Mother is remote. She mainly has attachment to GG who she meets in her teens. Ruth becomes very attached to this young girl. Very Good.

t
taylorwoods
Feb 17, 2017

Such impeccable prose and vision- I loved Nao's voice as a character and will definitely miss her. Meanwhile I am now off to read more on the nature of Time-Beings and Zen Buddhism. Beautiful imagery of Japan and the temples; makes me want to visit them.

m
mayog
Jan 03, 2017

I found myself immersed in this book in ways that surprised me. Thinking about life through the lenses of Zen and quantum physics is quite a different perspective, one that I enjoyed. The voices of both characters are real in very different ways, but believable in their internal wrestling. I completely understand why it was considered for the Man Booker. Trigger warning: bullying, rape, suicide. Passes the Bechdel, Duvernay, and Latif tests. I recommend it.

u
udthum
Dec 29, 2016

A Tale for the Time Being is Ruth Ozeki's exploration of Buddhist concept's of time. She explores how time passes for different people depending on their situation, integrating Buddhist philosophy and quantum physics. The book also provided a glimpse at life in contemporary Japan.

Ozeki used her characters to demonstrate how time impacted them. She jumped primarily between two main characters, Naoko and Ruth (presumably the author herself). Naoko, Nao for short, was a Japanese teenager who wrote a diary that Ruth found washed up in the Pacific Northwest. Ruth experienced time vicariously through Nao's diary and got wrapped up in her struggles as an outcast at her high school. Nao, on the other hand, learned to take the world as it comes and struggles to let go of her upsetting past in order to live for the present moment.

Nao found ways to cope with her own struggles by learning from her grandmother, a Buddhist nun she called Old Jiko, how to let things go and move on. "[Old Jiko] learned how to open up her heart so that the whale [of sadness] could swim away" (p. 180). Nao spent a summer with Old Jiko and learned how to let things go. Nao experienced the NOW and reveled in it as she learned Japanese Buddhist drumming. "When you beat a drum you create NOW, when silence becomes a sound so enormous and alive it feels like you're breathing in the clouds and the sky, and your heart is the rain and the thunder" (p. 238).

Other characters encountered as explorations of time were Nao's suicidal father for whom time and history were a big weight and Old Jiko's brother who was a kamikaze pilot in World War II for whom time was limited so he tried to live to the fullest within the constraints of the military and his own expiration date.

Ozeki also explored contemporary observations of time in the novel. Such as, how we experience time and life when Google searches are ever-present. A valuable lesson was learned from Nao as she resisted cyber-bullying by disappearing from the internet, "...anonymity is the new celebrity... because true freedom comes from being unknown" (p. 383).

Ruth lived vicariously through reading the diary of Naoko as well as through her own internet research to try and find Nao. Ruth was escapist in many respects as she tried to piece together a story of a Japanese teen that had very little practical impact on her life in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to online searches and Ruth's Japanese heritage she did not feel completely removed from Nao's situation. Ruth explored time as it related to quantum physics to help justify her intense remote engagement in Nao's life. She weaved in concepts of time from quantum physics such as how multiple possibilities can exist all at once in different dimensions. Ruth, through her understanding of quantum physics came to the realization that "...not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive" (p. 402). Ruth wanted Nao's life to persist in all its possibilities and it was able to in her imagination as long as some of the mystery of her time and life remained in the dark.

Ozeki's book was an illuminating trip through time- or at least concepts of time.

AL_SOFIA Dec 06, 2016

The book on how to survive in a cruel and inhumane world. How to live life when one does not want to, and the meaning is lost. The history of the mystical salvation Naoko Japanese girl and the stranger who found her diary. The splitting of reality at the quantum level. To escape it was possible. For all those interested in the true sense of things; philosophy, culture, history, science, and trying to understand the mystery of life and its destination. Little sad and tragic story of the life of several generations of people that it will inspire optimism and faith in a happy future.

j
jennydreadful
Nov 27, 2016

This book was incredible. At first I didn't think I was going to get into it, but then the story just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I was completely drawn in by Nao and her father because I have gone through something similar myself. These characters felt so very real to me. I probably cried ten times while reading this because I could understand what they were going through and all of it was so genuine. I also enjoyed the parts told from Ruth's perspective because it was like a detective story that ended up having a fascinating connection with Nao's tale that I won't spoil. It made all of the time spent on those other characters meaningful and worthwhile. Another aspect I quite enjoyed was the sprinkling of Japanese words and phrases thrown in while Nao is at the helm. I've been slowly learning Japanese and it excited me to discover just how much I knew without any help from the notes provided on the page. I can't wait to read other books from this author.

FederalWayEdna Sep 20, 2016

What happens when a novelist, who is suffering a bit of writer’s block, finds a Ziploc bag on the beach near her remote island home in British Columbia that is filled with esoteric items from Japan? This story brings two families in two different times in history, together in a tale that is partly family and social-dysfunction and partly spiritually healing. For those who love philosophy and literature, this is the perfect book choice for discussion.

c
cindypope007
May 31, 2016

couldn't get into this...retry

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m
mayog
Jan 03, 2017

“..I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. 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.”

PimaLib_SherrieB Oct 22, 2014

Print is predictable and impersonal, conveying information in a mechanical transaction with the reader's eye. Handwriting, by contrast, resists the eye, reveals it's meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin.

b
bixby
Jun 26, 2014

From Le temps retrouve (Time Regained) by Marcel Proust, as quoted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki:
"In reality, every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument, which he offers to the reader to permit him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. The reader's recognition in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its truth."

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mayog
Jan 03, 2017

mayog thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

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b
bixby
Jun 26, 2014

A Canadian writer finds a freezer bag containing a young Japanese girl's diary which might have washed across the Pacific after the tsunami. The chapters go back and forth between the writer and the diary pages, keeping you enthralled and wondering if you will ever know what became of her. Fascinating!

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