A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A Hello Kitty lunchbox. A writer on a remote island suffering from writer’s block. Musings on the nature of Time. A bullied teenage girl in Japan. A watch. A Buddhist nun. Big philosophical questions. A cat called Pesto. Proust. A suicidal software developer. Tsunamis and Twin Towers. A World War Two kamikaze pilot… This is Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

Ruth, a Japanese-American writer, lives with her husband and their cat Pesto on a remote island. She discovers a freezer bag with a Hello Kitty lunchbox while walking on the beach and she assumes it washed up after the 2011 Tsunami in Japan. The lunchbox contains a diary concealed as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, some handwritten letters, and a broken watch. Ruth soon discovers the diary belonged to the then sixteen-year-old Nao Yasutani, a Japanese-American girl who lived in Tokyo. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary, and uncovers the mysteries of the letters and watch, her own struggles and thoughts become strangely intertwined with this girl’s life. Ruth becomes more actively involved as Nao’s story slowly unfolds and she’s pulled into Nao’s troubles with her suicidal father, the extreme bullying she experiences at school, the life lessons by her wise Buddhist-nun great-grandmother, and the story of her uncle, a kamikaze pilot…

‘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.’

Ozeki’s novel is a philosophical musing, densely layered with themes like time, being, cruelty, kindness, darkness, and light. Touched with magic realism and a few history lessons, this novel invites you to take a deep breath and to slowly navigate these complex questions with Nao and Ruth. Ozeki does not shy away from prickly topics, like bullying and cruelty, and some scenes are harrowing and painful to get through. This is not a book to relax with. It should be chipped away at, digested, and mulled over. I have to admit that some of the more upsetting scenes kept me awake one night – sensitive readers, take note. But the story is filled with beautiful moments, wisdom, and kindness too and I think that’s what Ozeki’s wants to show the reader. Despite some of the darker themes, Ozeki narrates her story with a quirky sense of humour; she depicts her characters with respectful empathy and a deep understanding of the enduring inner strength of ‘beings’. You’ll enjoy this one if you like a slow, thought-provoking story packed with fascinating facts and big questions.

‘But memories are time beings, too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves; for a while they are beautiful, and then they fade and die.’

*

If A Tale for the Time Being sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll also enjoy Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. For more reading inspiration have a look at my Wild Reading List or follow me on Instagram.

3 thoughts on “A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

  1. I absolutely loved reading this book and it has stayed with me! I’ve never come across someone before who has read this book so I was really happy to read your review – which is so on point! xoxo Any book recommendations for a similar vibe? I love books that leave you feeling like you’ve learned something new about the world and yourself and the journey is a rollercoaster of emotions.

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    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the review! I agree, this is such a different story. Are you familiar with Haruki Murakami’s books? I can recommend ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicles’ – it’s long and weird, but I think you’ll enjoy it. Another one to try is ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s one of my all time favourites! A very different style to Murakami, but it’s so wonderful and interesting. I hope you can get round to these xx

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  2. Haha this is so weird – I have literally spent the last two days hyping Murakami to a friend and convincing her to pick one of his books. I have’t read The Wind Up Bird Chronicles but I’ll add it to my TBR cos you’re recommending it 😀 I’ve actually studied a bit of Marquez in school and did try reading more outside of it but found it very intimidating. I have Love In The Time Of Cholera sitting on my bookshelf for over 4 years now. The only reason I got this instead of One Hundred Years Of Solitude (which seemed very intriguing to me) because it happened to be Ted Mosby’s favourite book – from HIMYM. Thanks for the recommendations xx

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