Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

My first review for the New Haven Review. Please do take a look and leave comments on the NHR site itself if you liked my take on an excellent book!

Review of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being

Reading A Tale for the Time Being, the third novel by New Haven-born author Ruth Ozeki, played with my head in a way I’ve not experienced since John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Whereas Fowles’ novel dealt with existentialist philosophy, Ozeki’s strange blend of fiction and “not fiction” ponders Buddhist thinking intertwined with quantum theory. It can make for a bewildering read.

Ozeki’s novel is written in the first-person perspective of a troubled teenaged Japanese girl and in the third-person perspective of an almost equally troubled author who finds the girl’s diary washed up on shore. In penning her thoughts, the Japanese girl, Nao (short for Naoko, and playing on its sounding like “now”), contemplates suicide and intends to make a written record of Jiko, her 104-year-old great-grandmother who is a Zen Buddhist nun with awesome “supapawa.” The author, named Ruth, struggles to find the confidence to write her next book (believing her powers are fading like her mother’s mind did) and with the lifestyle she shares with her husband, Oliver.

I struggled too. In the first few chapters I found Nao a little unbelievable. She was too upbeat, too interesting to be convincing as a girl intending to kill herself. At the same time, the characterization was wonderful—I really liked her and cared about her well-being. Ozeki constructs Nao’s diary as an account written to some undefined, future “you” which draws in the reader just as it draws in Ruth. The novel interweaves chapters between the two characters throughout, taking the reader on a journey with both women. Nao says she is writing for “one special person, and that person is you.” And that person may be Ruth.

Just as in Einsteinian physics, space and time are linked, inseparable, and to some extent the same thing, so Nao seems to reach across time and space to that special “you.” She puns with time, referring to herself as a “time being,” and asks questions of the “you,” wondering how “it feels like I’m reaching forward through time to touch you, and now that you’ve found it, you’re reaching back to touch me!” The diary itself is cleverly hidden in time—secreted between the covers of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Living in New Haven, an ocean away from Japan, Ruth is yet of Japanese descent herself and so the two characters are connected despite such vast distance. Ultimately, Ruth’s dreams make even that distance seemingly non-existent…

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My first review for the New Haven Review. Please do take a look and leave comments on the NHR site itself if you liked my take on an excellent book!

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