“Hi! My name is Nao, and I’m a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.“
I had a feeling that I would like this book before I even started it because of my experience reading one of Ozeki’s previous novels My Year of Meats. It was an assigned reading for a university class that I took a few years ago and I was so captivated by the story that I ended up reading while I was walking from class to class. Have you ever done that? I wouldn’t advise it. (Too many “Oops” and “I’m sorrys” to strangers.) Anyway, here’s a blurb about the book from Goodreads:
“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 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 humour 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.”
A Tale for the Time Being is a beautifully textured and complex tale. Right from the very first sentence (quoted above), A Tale for the Time Being raises questions and plays with words in a fascinating and intelligent way. The introduction of a “time being” already makes readers rethink the book’s title – Initially, one might have interpreted “a tale for the time being” as “a tale for now”, but now we’re also introduced to the idea that “a tale for the time being” could also mean that it’s a tale for you, and maybe for me, and maybe even for Nao. But wait – does “a tale for now” also mean “a tale for Nao”?
My dear readers, these are the questions that undeniably will suck me into a book. So essentially, Ozeki captured my attention with just a book title and one sentence. If you came here expecting to read a bad review I think you’re going to be very disappointed.
Besides the concept of time and how it functions, the book also tackles many difficult subjects ranging from suicide, bullying, depression, and morality. The most amazing thing about this is that the novel never feels insincere or overwhelmed. Nao’s prose is easy to read (she is a modern teenager, after all) and nothing ever feels overly didactic. Nao is a completely sympathetic character and you learn very early on to care about her and her family’s well-being. Ruth’s story is interesting as well, but I definitely read this as more of Nao’s story.
As Nao attempts to tell us the life story of her great-grandma Jiko (who is a feminist-anarchist-Zen Buddhist Nun, by the way), we follow her daily life as she shares her thoughts and secrets with us. We learn that she is still getting used to Japan after moving there from America, and about her school and home life. In parallel, but actually not really, because Nao’s diary is technically an object of the past, we learn about Ruth, a novelist from a remote island in British Columbia and her struggles to feel at home as well. Altogether, the story and its characters exceed the expectations of being a book about a suicidal girl and an inquisitive novelist. It’s about family, honour, being misunderstood, and, ultimately, persevering and finding hope when it feels like there is none.
Verdict: I cannot say enough good things about this book. For me, it’s a definite must-read.
Read if: You like intelligent, well-written, engaging, and complex novels.
Have you read A Tale for the Time Being? Will you be checking it out? I’d love to hear your thoughts!