Author: Ruth Ozeki | Publisher: Cannongate Books | Release date: 11.03.13 | Pages: 422 | Source: For Review
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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.
MY THOUGHTS: Ruth Ozeki leaves an indelible impression on her readers, the entwined lives of two "time beings" etched into their minds. Perhaps this book won't be your cup of tea – you'll find the protagonist's tangents tedious, the rambling on about time repetitive and the contrast of cultures irrelevant from the plot – but no matter how much you enjoy this tale, you will not and cannot forget it. Ozeki's words are rich, true-spoken, enchanting; The Tale for the Time Being is an achievement, yes, but far too personal, too informal, too affecting to be called so. As Nao "[reaches] forward through time to touch you", you can't help but wonder how the author has created a novel so profoundly moving that it no longer seems like a novel at all.
“You wonder about me. I wonder about you. Who are you and what are you doing?”
The first thing that struck me about this novel is how incredibly aware our protagonist, and indeed our author, is about the reader: Nao about Ruth, Ruth about us. It's rare to read a book that draws such a Holden Caulfield-esque link between the two, and even rarer to read a novel that does this whilst simultaneously balancing out two separate story lines. There's no doubt that Ozeki is a skilled author, no doubt whatsoever, but this relationship she has built between between the reader and the writer, the connection she has crafted between fiction and reality, is what sets her miles above the rest.
A Tale for the Time Being covers many topics: some unbearably brutal, some truly fascinating. The blend of cultures woven into the book gives a new dimension to the novel – the footnotes, in particular, are extremely insightful. Ozeki has already created something incredible with both the characters and the plot, but the combination of Zen, WWII history and Japanese culture transform the book into a feast for the brain (I am well aware this may only apply to me, and others may find all of this unnecessary!). But then of course we reach the other end of the spectrum: grim subjects, such as suicide, yet tackled with just as much flair and consideration. Whilst areas of the novel are undeniably dark and tragic, other parts are funny and uplifting and all of it is compelling.
But onto the question I promised to answer in this review: is this book suitable for teenagers? My immediate answer is yes, I mean, I read it after all... but then again, I don't feel as if reading this book is a question of age, but rather of maturity. If you think you can tackle tougher themes, then give this book a go; if you're unsure of whether or not you could deal with this, then wait a few years (believe me, this novel is worth waiting for).
All in all, A Tale for the Time Being is a stunning novel that I simply can't do justice to. Within Nao, Ozeki has created a fictional character for our generation of readers: a 16-year-old girl who is my kind of time being, and maybe yours too.
“Sometimes when she told stories about the past her eyes would get teary from all the memories she had, but they weren't tears. She wasn't crying. They were just the memories, leaking out.”
"You're my kind of time being and together we'll make magic!"
“Print is predictable and impersonal, conveying information in a mechanical transaction with the reader’s eye. Handwriting, by contrast, resists the eye, reveals its meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin.”
In One Word?
I have to admit, this book will probably not be to everybody's taste; if you're looking for a thrilling plot, a whirlwind romance and a gang of tough and unbeatable villains, none of that will be found within these pages. Instead you are given a very realistic, touching tale accompanied with the most uplifting of epilogues.