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UnavailableA Tale for the Time Being: A Novel
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A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel

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A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel

ratings:
4/5 (52 ratings)
Length:
737 pages
9 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 12, 2013
ISBN:
9781101606254
Format:
Book

Description

A brilliant, unforgettable novel from bestselling author Ruth Ozeki, author of The Book of Form and Emptiness

Finalist for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award

“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.

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.
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 12, 2013
ISBN:
9781101606254
Format:
Book

About the author



Reviews

What people think about A Tale for the Time Being

4.1
52 ratings / 124 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    I think this is a remarkable novel, well deserved to be shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013. It is the first time that I have awarded a book five stars. For me it ticked all of the boxes, it is beautifully written. The character of Nao comes alive through the reading of her diary, drawing you into her world, were the brutality of some of the things she has to endure is counterbalanced by the spiritual guidance and love she receives from Old Jiko, her great grandmother. You can't help but share in Ruth's determination to find out what has happened to Nao and her family. The novel left me with a heightened sense of the here and now, as each person's individual destiny can be altered, in a single moment, that's all it takes to destroy lives. Equally the same moment in time may have no consequences if influenced by a different set of circumstances. It also left me feeling a bit sad and strangely optimistic at the same time too. If you like to think deeply, this is definitely the novel for you. I expect that I will return to this novel in the future and re-read it again, because one reading just doesn't seem to do it justice.
  • (4/5)
    I really liked it, but that dream sequence was just too trippy and out of tone with the rest of the book for me.
    The audio, read by the author, was great.
  • (5/5)
    There is so much going on in this book! It seems like it is Ozeki's magnum opus, covering Japan and the west coast of BC, French literature, Soto Zen Buddhism, life and death, suicide, the relationship between reader and writer, bullying and social pressure, trauma, war and pacifism, natural disasters, the environment, sex work, quantum physics, memory, et cetera! It is quite dark and heavy, but rightfully so, doing justice to such profound subjects. This really earned its five stars. It's an incredible effort.
  • (4/5)
    So my first thought on finishing this book was "huh. That ending was a bit too perfect for my liking."
    But after thinking about it, I realized... the ending presented isn't really the ending at all.

    I'm going to be as vague as possible to avoid spoilers, so bear with me.

    On the surface, it looks as though everything is neatly tied up in a bow at the end, and everything is looking optimistic, which, of course, is the type of story we all need to hear sometimes (even if we don't necessarily want to hear it). I didn't hate the ending, but it did feel a bit too sweet, but instead of leaving me content, this sweetness settled uncomfortably in my belly. Something wasn't... right.

    That was because this is a novel by an author writing about herself. She is writing the book into existence. She is writing herself.

    Maybe that does not seem important, but trust me, it is.

    Because instead of ending up with a peachy-cream ending, this small details leaves us with something a little less sweet: an author writing her own ending. An author fabricating an ending to her own tale. An author writing the ending she wants not the ending that exists.

    It's subtle, but the last 50 pages or so of the book hint at this too (you know, those pages where they go on and on about philosophy, and that dream that kind of makes you quirk your head and wonder what kind of book you're reading).

    This ending changes everything. Because now the story isn't about Nao and Ruth, but it's about you, and how rarely in life do we get endings, so instead we create the ending we want in order to soothe something down inside of us that needs that resolution, or that message, or that solution. It's about how we choose our realities, and what we believe, so that we can move on and be better people tomorrow. It's about the power of stories, and of communication between strangers, and how our own choices can impact lives thousands of miles or years away.

    It's about our desire for happily ever after, and how we create that ending for ourselves and others in our minds, even if it really does not exist.
  • (4/5)
    I immediately liked this book. The characters were interesting and so well developed that I felt their pain. Nao's stories were heart-wrenching at times. The Japanese culture is what sets this book apart. Nao's grandmother was insightful and I couldn't help but love her. The ending was a bit quick. I hope the author explores more about Nao and her grandmother. I didn't feel that connection to Ruth. Overall a well-written and emotionally charged story. I'll definitely be recommending it to others.
  • (4/5)
    I had to take off one star because I hated the first 128 pages of this book! I really wanted to drop it, I found it very annoying, uninteresting, slow etc. Suddenly it started to engage me, and then it just kept building until the last 1/4 where it became hard to put down. There were things I could have lived without such as the attempted tutorial on quantum physics - never going to really understand that stuff - but that was easily skimmable. The story begins with Ruth, an author living on a remote island, suffering from writer's block, who discovers a diary, letters and a watch which appear to have washed ashore from the Japanese Tsunami. She begins to read the diary and finds herself becoming consumed with the life of a teenager, raised in California, now living in Japan. The girl is miserable, horrifically bullied at school, her homelife is not much better. Attempted salvation comes from her 104 year old great-grandmother who lives in a remote temple as a nun.

    There is a lot of historical background here, as well as a look at modern day Japan, as well a a good dose of magic/mysticism. You don't necessarily have to believe, Ruth is not sure she does, but it does make for a better story. After a very painful start I found this to be a beautiful and satisfying read.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book, and I've been reluctant to review it. Why? Maybe it's like that anxiety Umberto Eco says 'attacks us when we try to say something true about the world.' To me, this book was about as big as the world, and saying something true about it is daunting, and quickly descends into hand-waving and sentimental twaddle.

    I was dubious about this book, and it caught me on the first page. It's inviting, and thoughtful, and charming. It's so much about voice -- two voices -- that it doesn't really matter what the plot is: it's about so much more than that. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and the book had its own voice, too. One I wanted to keep listening to, and mourned when it was over. I'm going to read it again, on paper, because it's my friend, and I don't want it to stop speaking.

    So, here goes my hand-waving: this book is about death, and loss, and time. It's about alienation -- like all capital-l Literature! -- but also about connection. It's about Zen Buddhism, and crows, and language. It's my favorite novel I read in 2017, and I read some great books. If you're not sure you're up for all that, give it a try. It might just catch you, on the very first page.
  • (4/5)
    Hmm... a little zen, a little Japanese. A little bit about suicide and a little bit about storytelling. A happier ending than I might have anticipated, but there's nothing wrong with that.
  • (3/5)
    I more or less enjoyed reading it while it lasted, finding the narrative of the girl Nao fascinating and heartbreaking. The Ruth side was more puzzling--not sure I found it so compelling. The author had a pretty good and real grasp of Japan, but I found one or two translations a bit strained, didn't make complete sense. Overall, not particularly earth-shattering, but entertaining enough.
  • (4/5)
    I read this book recently as "preparation" for a trip to Japan. It succeeded as a good read, and in painting a picture of Japan.I found the structure a little too quirky at first, and lacking a little in substance. But I was wrong on both counts. The two-voice narration worked wonderfully, and the girlish voice of one narrator was in character, and we came along on the ride as she grew and grew.I loved it.
  • (5/5)
    This book was such a good read...keeps you turning the pages. It is raw, emotional at times, introspective, and wonderfully written.
  • (4/5)
    When the dot.com bubble burst a Japanese family living in California are forced to go back to Japan as "returning immigrants". Their teenage daughter finds she is more American than Japanese and finding it hard to fit in. Her schoolmates bully her cruelly and relentlessly. The story jumps to a novelist living on Cortes Island, British Columbia who finds a barnacle-encrusted bag holding a "Hello Kitty" lunchbox filled with letters and the diary of the Japanese/American teenager, Nao (pronounced Now). The story is initially gripping but fades a little with the mind-bending treatment of time that was a little beyond my appreciation or understanding. Ozeki takes on a lot in this novel, often funny, sometimes gruesome, but undoubtedly intriguing. It's a curious view of time with a cultural, international, and historic slant. This is the kind of story a book club might spend days discussing.This was an audiobook with excellent narration by the author. I can't think of anyone who could have done a better job.
  • (5/5)
    Love love love love
  • (5/5)
    I read this book for my bookclub, and had initially been dubious that it was a book for me. It is more literary than I would normally choose, and I don't have a particular interest in Japanese culture. But what unfolded was an emotional journey through sensitive topics like bullying and suicide.The book flicks between two worlds: Nao's and Ruth's. Ruth finds Nao's diary washed up on the beach of the remote island she lives on in British Columbia, Canada and starts to read and translate it. Nao's diary talks about her life in Japan, since moving there from America with her Japanese born parents. Ruth believes the diary has been washed up in the 2011 tsunami and attempts to track down Nao and her family.It's difficult to talk about this book without giving away the story. It is a slow intense read that reveals various elements of Japanese culture. It tells the story of a teenage girl, Nao, who was raised in America and has been thrust into Japanese life and the difficulties she experiences, as well as the difficulties her parents experience. It is also tells the story of her great grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, and her great Uncle who was a Kamikaze pilot. And it tells the story of Ruth and her husband, and their life on a remote island.The tales are interwoven, and no more is given than absolutely necessary. The reader is left to feel their own emotions about the things that are uncovered; the author doesn't provide the reader with a judgement either way, although we do see Ruth and her husband's reaction to some of it, if only to explain more fully what is being described in Nao's stories.I loved the depth of this book, of the characters and stories and their lives. I also loved other topics which are touched on, like Buddhism and Quantum Physics, and the appendices in the back that give more detailed information on these topics.
  • (4/5)
    The first few chapters were hard for me to get into, with the teen focus on material goods & irritation with her mother. But I pushed on because I really wanted to hear the history of Nao's Buddhist activist nun great grandmother, and then I became involved in the story. This is not my first exposure to how dysfunctional Japanese society is for young people--I saw a video a few years ago about abandoned children trying to survive. Simultaneously to the story in Japan is a story of an adult writer on an Alaskan island who is a bit afraid she's getting Alzheimer's. Along with finding Nao's diary, she is visited by a Japanese crow whose role is one you'll have to determine for yourself.The ending becomes quite philosophical about what time is, whether we can affect the future--or even produce alternate worlds.Heard audio version read by author & greatly enjoyed the voices of her great-grandmother & the fluent Japanese speech. The teen voice was kind of irritating. I understand the print version has some drawings etc which were not described in the audio version & I'd like to see that version also.
  • (3/5)
    Whatever I got from this book, I got from the story- not from the way it was written. The story itself was exciting, it drew me in. But I found its handling of sensitive topics like harassment, sex and violence crass.Nao is a Japanese schoolgirl who has written a diary chronicling the systematic bullying and abuse she experiences at school on account of her being mainly raised in the USA. As well as this she is struggling with her unwell father, who is suicidal, and her emotionally distant workaholic mother. Alongside this story is the story of her Buddhist nun great-grandmother who she forms a useful and healing relationship with after an unsuccessful suicide attempt by her father ends up with her being packed off to stay with her.Alongside these stories is the story of Ruth, a Canadian resident who comes across Nao's diary, and other papers, washed up on the shore of her local remote beach. Ruth is reading the diary and figuring what her own problems are in completing her novel. Ruth's partner Oliver appears to be in the novel for the sole purpose of providing a voice to relay complex information which is helpful to the reader.There is a fantastical aspect to the story which I found completely implausible, in spite of detailed explanations of quantum physics by the token encyclopedia-man, Oliver.At times I loved hearing Nao's story, and always felt for her struggles, but reading the story irritated slightly more than it thrilled me.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book! A Tale for the Time Being is very well written and combines time together seamlessly. The plot alone is great, Ruth in Canada found a diary of a Japanese teenager, Nao, who is being bullied and has a suicidal father. Ruth and the readers while reading Nao’s diary feel there is a urgency to help her even though the diary is old and whatever preventable actions could of been taken to save Nao it was too late, but you forget that and want to still help her. While Nao is struggling she visits her great grandmother, Jiko, who is a Buddhist Nun, and hears stories about her great uncle who her father is named after that was a pilot during WWII. Ruth tries to understand Nao and figure out more about her and how her diary ended up in her hands. Then there is a level of the plot that is beyond what is described and it is hard to put into words, but the gist is about the meaning of time and possibilities.

    The main characters Ruth and Nao alternate between chapters and unlike many books that do this, it is done right. There isn’t any mix up feelings about who is speaking in the chapter, the author gave each character a very unique feel. It is an emotional ride, but a good ride and pays off.

    I enjoyed the ending. It is a bit abstract where the reader can come up with multiple conclusions and still never know. The last part of the book about infinite universes built of infinite possibilities gives the ending a supernatural feeling, but it is a real scientific theory. Some spoilers ahead to explain what I mean. Ruth swears the last pages are missing when Nao’s father is about to commit suicide and Nao might too after visiting her dying great-grandmother. Ruth has a dream and she prevents the suicide of the father and places the pilots journal into a box to be found. When she wakes up the journal has more pages filled out. Did she alternate Nao’s history by intervening in her dream? Maybe. While I loved the ending, I can understand how it could be frustrating for other readers, but it does fit with Buddhist beliefs, which makes it perfect in my opinion.
  • (5/5)
    This is an amazingly good book. There are so many levels and layers to it. It's partly the journal of a teenage Japanese girl named Nao, partly the reaction to the journal on the part of Ruth, a woman who finds the journal on a beach in British Columbia. It's a hero's journey, a testament to the strength of the characters, a contemplation of time and its many layers. I was fascinated to see where the novel was going. I loved absorbing the Buddhist wisdom on the part of Nao's great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. It's two tales woven into one with time as a pivotal character. It is an extraordinary book and I think I'll go back and re-read it to catch some of the layers I may have missed. It's amazing.
  • (4/5)
    Was very enjoyable, tough to get started but very worth it. Love the nun great-grandmother!
  • (4/5)
    Like some other reviewers, I really enjoyed this novel and found myself very involved with both main characters (and I almost never read novels) until the dream sequence towards the end. I wish author Ozaki had found another way to successfully round off her tale. Supernatural interventions are not to my taste and are best left for childrens' literature. I've just abandoned reading Alice Hoffman's The Ice Queen for the same reason.
  • (5/5)
    Every once in a while a book takes you totally by surprise and that's what happened for me with this book. I really didn't know much about this book except that it was on the list CBC put together of 100 Novels that Make you Proud to be Canadian. When I saw that the audiobook was read by the author I decided that would be how I would "read" it. Listening to this book added a dimension that would be missed in reading it because there are so many words and phrases in Japanese. Although they are almost always translated I know from reading other books with Japanese words that I stumble over them because I am not sure how to pronounce them. At the end Ozeki says each version (print and audio) bring something different to the experience so maybe I'll have to read it too.Ruth (the fictional Ruth but also the author Ruth) lives on an island off the coast of BC with her husband and their cat. She is out walking the beach one day after a storm and finds a package containing a Hello Kitty lunchbox with a collection of artifacts inside. This is a few years after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that decimated a large section of Japan and caused the nuclear power plant at Fukushima to fail. At first Ruth thinks the package might be debris from the tsunami. As she starts to read the journal which is one of the things inside the lunchbox she wonders if it might have been cast deliberately into the ocean by the teenage writer of the journal. Nao, although Japanese by birth, lived most of her life in California where her father worked in the computer industry. Then her father lost his job and they had to move back to Tokyo where Nao is an outsider. She is bullied and harrassed and abused by the others at school and she is deeply unhappy. On top of this her father, who has not been able to find a job, is suicidal. Nao writes that she is going to commit suicide as well but she wants to write her life story first. In fact, she really wants to write the story of her great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun who has witnessed much horror in her 104 years but who still reveres life. Nao spent one summer with Jiko and she learned a lot from her but it still didn't change the decision to commit suicide. As Nao's journal is revealed we also learn about Ruth who is a writer with a serious writer's block. Is she using Nao's journal to distract herself from the block or is it helping her face her own demons. Ruth is also Japanese-American and knows the feeling of not being part of either culture. At one point as she is reading the journal she discovers that the last pages are blank although when she first looked through the book the writing went all the way to the last page. There is a little bit of magical realism used to solve this quandary. Normally I am not a fan of that writing style but it works here and gave the book an added depth.A truly fascinating book.
  • (5/5)
    Such a clever novel, full of questions and answers about the nature of time and relationships. I loved the multiple perspectives: Nao, suffering all sorts of teenage hell in Japan in the early 2000s; Ruth, facing challenges of her own in her island life in British Columbia; and Haruki #1, whose transition from philosophy student to kamikaze pilot really puts all of our modern irritations into perspective. I tried to ration myself with reading, to slow down my progress, but I gobbled up the last 200 pages like an addict. A really enjoyable read.
  • (5/5)
    I don't like writing book reviews. The experience of reading is so individualistic that I feel it can be a waste of time. But I want to point out how excellent this book is. It forces you to think outside your comfort zone about death, about being, about not being. The characters are very likeable and the plot is surreal and imaginative. Beautiful, beautiful book. For fans of Haruki Murakami.
  • (4/5)
    Absolutely loved this! It had a lot in common with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but was more approachable and relate-able in a way - most likely because the characters were American/Canadian instead of European. The existential ideas were introduced so slowly and with examples as opposed to explanations, they resonated so loudly. Intoxicating and hard to put down!
  • (3/5)
    A book that neatly fitted my circumstances. Set on British Columbia island featuring mysterious Japanese flotsam. I was just back from a holiday in Japan and about to set off on another to British Columbia. What better reading? It turned out well. An exploration of Zen Buddhism, quantum physics and family relationships. A mixture of imagination and reality. Good but in the end unsatisfying. All that research lead only to a soggy conclusion. The muse ran out.
  • (3/5)
    This is a long one, two narratives -- Nao's and Ruth's -- spun together. There's a lot in it. Quantum physics, tides and weather patterns in the ocean, historical events like WWII and the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, Japanese Buddhism/mysticism, bullying, suicide, writing and literature, Biology, Alzheimer's, invasive species, French literature, philosophy...I am impressed by how much the author knows and/or researched.
    The ending was less concrete than I expected, but I suppose that's the author's way of letting the reader interpret the events and their unfolding.

    This would make a good novel study or book club discussion, since there is SO MUCH to discuss. It would be fitting to keep a diary about reading this book.

    PS I've often said I don't like authors reading their own book for the audio version, but Ruth does a great job, so don't worry there.
  • (4/5)
    This 2013 Man Booker Prize finalist set in Japan and in Whaletown, British Columbia, has magical realism and deals with bullying. A mysterious diary written by a troubled schoolgirl in Tokyo has washed ashore on the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada in the wake of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The diary is discovered by a novelist named Ruth (the author), who becomes obsessed with discovering the girl's fate.
  • (5/5)
    I absolutely LOVE this book! This books goes from two different time lines that come together. I think everyone should definitely read this book.
  • (3/5)
    I wanted to love this book, but... The story is more interesting than the writing itself, which I mostly found tedious. Most of the information about Japan I'd learned from manga - otherwise that probably would have held my attention more.
  • (5/5)
    This was my pick for Read Harder 2017's Task 19. There are actually several characters of color who go on spiritual journeys. A Tale for the Time Being has two protagonists, both are women of color and then some second tier characters have their own spiritual journeys as well. The book opens with Nao, who I would call the main protagonist. She is one of those characters who live between cultures and is therefore harder to understand and has a harder time relating to people of either culture. She's lonely at school where she can't relate to other students who grew up in Japan, but also at home. Her parents have enough of their own issues that they don't have the awareness to deal with hers, until Nao's issues practically hit them in the face.

    Ruth is the other protagonist. This part of the story is a little more familiar for Western audiences despite that Ruth is a protagonist of color. Also of Japanese heritage, she takes a special interest in Nao's diary after it washes up on the shores of her local beach in Canada along with other items from Japan. The assumption around town is that these items were washed away in the tsunami that had hit Japan in 2011. More than anything else that has washed up though, this diary and the few things with it are more personal to Ruth. Her character arc and spiritual journey is just as pronounced as Nao's as she searches for what may have happened to Nao.

    For me, Nao's journey is by far the more interesting one. She goes through so much and her family had been through so much. There's also a magnificent shifting of perspective and the way they know and see each other. Its a multigenerational kind of story that has several beautiful layers but also several horrific and triggering scenes. Some triggers to expect in this book are suicide and suicidal thoughts, rape, bullying, depression, and child prostitution.

    With triggers like that, I was also surprised to find the rather perfect way it resolved. There's some magical realism that comes into play, but it had been there from the beginning too. And perfect does not mean that life goes on as if nothing ever happened, quite the contrary. There are still mysteries left to the story too, but these are the kind if mysteries that are true to life. Sometimes we just don't get to know about some things we are looking for. I rather liked that.

    Altogether, it's one of my favorite books this year.