A brilliant, unforgettable, and long-awaited novel from best-selling author Ruth Ozeki
"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, 16-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 listener, 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.
©2013 Ruth Ozeki (P)2013 Penguin Audio
I heart audiobooks! Best way to "read"!
This book is a story-inside-a-story. One is of "Ruth" -- the actual author -- who finds a Japanese teen girl's diary washed up on the shore of her remote Canadian island. Ruth, half Japanese herself, is struggling with writer's block and fixates on the diary (and the other items in the plastic bag with it, including a kamikazi pilot's watch.) The other story is of Noa, the Japanese teenager, who is contemplating suicide but first wants to tell the story of her Greatgrandmother, Zen Buddhist nun Jiko. Instead, Noa's diary is about herself, how she was born in America but now lives in social isolation in Japan, her equally suicidal father, and the life-journey her "Old Jiko" inspires. Ruth believes the diary is floatsam from the Japanese Tusnami and sets out to find out if Noa is real/alive.
Noa's story is overall engrossing and emotional. At times even hard to listen to. But Ruth's story is a snooze. There are no "stakes" for Ruth, I never cared about her and I find the conceit to write a fake narrative about your real self to be pretty insufferable. Especially since she is totally unnecessary to tell Noa's story. Overall, Ruth's sections of the book don't even read real. She and her husband Oliver talk to each other like strangers. I have never heard two married people talk so formally and stiffly. I'm still shocked this was nominated for a Mann Booker prize based on how wooden Ruth's sections are.
But here's the worse part: Noa's story is eventually hinged on some vague notion of "quantum physics" (???) and Zen ideals about time. Which might have been okay IF there wasn't a sudden, unneeded and off-putting mystical/supernatural element introduced into the plot about 3/4 of the way through. I almost stopped listening when (SPOILER ALERT) Ruth has this incredibly self-involved dream... than ends up saving Noa's life, in the diary! Oh, come on. I slogged through all of this so the author could go on a ego trip??
The ending is vague, which I'm sure some people find "artsy" but I found a cop out.
All that said, my biggest issue with this book is the author reads it herself!!! Ugh, I hate when authors do that except when they're professional actors, like Steve Martin or how Mindy Kalling or Tina Fey read their own books. Hey, author: I'm sure you had fun in drama club back in high school, but you're not a great actor. You really suck at doing voices, sometimes even your own! Sure, since Ruth Ozeki is half-Japanese, she pronounces all the Japanese words in the book perfectly. But any decent actor who knows Japanese could have done that! Ruth Ozeki's has no ability to bring the characters alive through her voice. Mostly, it was flat, and when it wasn't, she sounded stiff or over-done, like someone doing bad impressions of mutual friends.
Please leave the book narration up to the professionals.
I haven't read Ruth Ozeki's first book, "My Year of Meats," but I certainly will now. Her writing is beautiful and completely engaging.
Although the first few moments of the book had me wondering about what I had gotten myself into as Nao introduced herself in her diary, but I kept going and I am really glad that I did. Nao and Ruth (the other main character--named for the book's author?) are both sympathetic and interesting characters. They are both struggling through hard situations in their lives and trying to figure out whether to make it through or to just give up. When fate connects them through the discovery of Nao's diary sealed inside a Hello Kitty lunch box inside a barnacled plastic bag that Ruth "happens" to find on the coast of Canada, their lives and stories become intertwined in interesting and surreal ways. The connection between Ruth as Nao's reader and Nao as Ruth's storyteller bridges both geographical distance as well as time.
I was sorry to reach the end of the story but very glad to have particpated in it--as a reader you definitely feel that you are part of what is happening as Ruth is part of what she reads from Nao's diary. In the end, the story, like the characters, seems to open up more possibilities than to close them and, as the reader, I knew this was a good thing--for everyone.
Besides incessant listening to audiobooks, I also read on my Kindle at night, birdwatch, garden (roses, daylilies), and do genealogy.
This is a difficult book for me to review. First, let me say that it was always engrossing but not in a demanding sort of way. That is, I could listen at a leisurely pace and did not feel I had to race to find out the outcome. It was certainly not a feel-good type of book by any stretch of the imagination.
The listening experience evoked many adjectives: sad, brutal, disturbing, puzzling, informative, and hopeful. I came to like the characters the longer I listened, and I became more and more interested in the Japanese cultural practices. However, I was very disturbed at the bullying which was a huge part of the story, both by Nao's schoolmates and the uncle's superior officers. The war atrocities described sickened me--the only saving grace was that the book was being read to me, and I could not linger very long on what was being described. The theme of suicide played a big role in this story, frighteningly so. Then, I became confused at the element of fantasy that was brought into the story--and the very strange way the author attempted to justify its relevance (Schrodinger's Cat!). I also was a bit put off by the easy way the ending was so easily turned around to make it hopeful and pleasant.
So, you can see I did not love many facets of the story. Yet, I am giving it a good rating and I hope I do not deter anyone from choosing to read it. This is a very unique, different sort of story that stretches the reader's imagination in very different ways, perhaps due to such different cultural issues.
I want to add that the author did a spectacular narration, which certainly added to the listening experience and to my high rating.
This story takes its time at the beginning. I became impatient and almost dumped it into the boring section of my library. However to my delight once the story in Japan was revealed, I couldn't wait to hear more about these interesting characters and their connection with the present day story line.
From the first page, this story had me entirely wrapt. Ruth Ozeki is absolutely brilliant as a storyteller and as an Audible reader. The most memorable book I have read in many years.
This is a very thoughtful work with many themes including existentialism, bullying, revisionist history, suicide, philosophy, living life in the present, memory loss, and life beyond death through the medium of books.
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