Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being has been sitting on my bookshelf for probably close to two years. I will admit, it was a total cover buy – seriously, scroll down and look at it – but the synopsis was intriguing. And it was absolutely nothing like I was expecting. This is easily one of the weirdest books I have ever read. But I am so glad I did.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(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 a 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.
I could tell almost immediately that this was going to be a strange book. I also knew I was going to like it. Regardless of where the story went, I was hooked by Ruth Ozeki’s writing. I’ve read a lot of books (A LOT of books), and I’ve never read anything quite like this. A Tale for the Time Being is original, hilarious, and heartbreaking. It broke my habit of flying through books (because how else will I have time to read them all?), and forced me to slow down and savor it, something I haven’t done in a while.
The format of this book, told both through Nao’s journal and Ruth’s experience reading it, was really inventive and fun to read. While Nao’s story was certainly more interesting, I think Ruth’s perspective added a lot to the novel overall. I enjoyed the way both parts of the book intersected, and I definitely had a different reaction to the book as a whole than I would have to Nao’s journal alone.
A Tale for the Time Being addresses difficult subjects, including death, depression, suicide, child prostitution, and rape. At times, it was difficult or uncomfortable to read (especially while I was on my lunch break at work), but I think it was handled well – with more than the occasional bout of humor – and tells a valuable and engaging story. As an American, I appreciated how this book shows Japanese culture in a realistic and relatable way (from the perspective of a Japanese girl). I found myself immersed in the culture, and wanting to learn more.
★★★★☆ – It has taken me weeks to write this review, because I couldn’t decide what to think of this book. A Tale for the Time Being is definitely one of the most bizarre and original novels I’ve ever come across, but it’s one that will stick with me. I wouldn’t call it a fun read – even though I laughed out loud more than once – but it was engaging, interesting, a little bit shocking, and, overall, definitively worthwhile. (And I can’t get over the double-meaning of the title!)
If you’ve read A Tale for the Time Being, I would love to hear your thoughts!
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose A Tale for the Time Being as one of your two free books..
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