Pulse Book Review A Review of Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being

This is a beautiful story about sixteen-year-old Nao, who wants to end her life but before that, she decides to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century.

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“Life is fleeting. Don't waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!”

This is a beautiful story about sixteen-year-old Nao, she is bullied at school, lonely at home. Her father, unemployed and depressed, reads western philosophy, and tries to commit suicide. While her mother is almost never around because she works in publishing, trying so hard to provide for the family.

Nao wants to end her life but before that, she decides to do just one good deed, document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century.

Fast forward some years after, wrapped in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, Nao's diary was found on a remote island in British Columbia, by a writer Ruth who mistook it for some of the belongings from the devastating 2011 tsunami.

Ruth Ozeki play

Ruth Ozeki

 

Ruth starts reading and she is plunged into Nao’s vivid writing, her touching story about about having to adapt to living in Tokyo after spending a childhood in America, her resilience in the face of extreme bullying at school, her concerns for her unemployed and suicidally depressed father, and her enchantment with her great grandmother, Jiko, who is a Buddhist nun at a Zen monastery.

I love reading stories about finding diaries or notes in a bottle by the beach and this is what this book starts with.

But this book is much more than that, it is how fleeting, temporary this life is and how important it is to be happy in the here and now – not looking to the past or the future for contentment or hope; and not indulging in regret or wishes.

As Ruth states “Life is fleeting. Don't waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!”

We are also reminded of how fragile our parents are, one minute they are fretting over our wellbeing as kids, the other minute we are the ones worried about their mental health. Nao was right when she said "parents are supposed to be the grown-up ones and look after the kids, but a lot of times it’s the other way around.”

We are reminded that the past never forgets, whether it is found letters or diaries, or a moment captured on the Internet that can never truly be erased. We are reminded that the world is a tiny place after all and that the past never forgets. Would Nao have imagined that her letter will be found by a writer in far away Canada? of course not.

This is a novel of grand themes, complex themes including East vs. West, search for home and roots, meaning of time, quantum physics, the emptiness of life, wars and xenophobia, rabid climate change, compassion and tolerance, and search for peace and acceptance.

A Tale for the Time Being is about connection, but also about the fluidity of our selves---the way that we shift and transform from moment to moment.

A Buddhist nun play

A Buddhist nun

(Ruth Ozeki)

 

However, the cliché plot was a bit annoying. I already know Japanese love committing suicide from Murakami's books, can you give me something else?

The middle and the end dragged on and on for me. And the cat disappearance, pages rewriting themselves, what the freaking hell was that?  Too many footnotes, too many descriptions of nature, too much quantum physics.

Small failings aside, this is an extremely important work which probes the underlying logic (or lack thereof) of suicide, bullying, rape and how unemployment can ruin a family.

I am not a history buff. before I read this book, I didn't know anything about Tsunami, or the dot com bubble or even the war Japan fought with America. But the author did a good job painting a broad picture of what happened then.

Ruth Ozeki play

Ruth Ozeki

 

So why three dot five stars? The book and the prose became bloated and tedious. The quantum physics at the end, the relationship between Ruth and her husband Oliver was too pretentious and boring.

Still, Ruth Ozeki is a great writer, I'm spellbound by this book.

A Tale of The Time Being is a thought provoking, fascinating, well-researched and well-conceived book. The writing is so lyrical and melancholic. Jiko and Nao will stay with me for a long time.

Ratings: 3.5/5.

ALSO READ: A Review of 'Lie to me Dan' by Longrin Wetten

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