Author: Ruth Ozeki
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Viking Adult
Length: 422 pages
Original Publishing Date: March 12th, 2013
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Ruth Ozeki's third novel, shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013.
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.
Main characters: 4.5/5
What was really interesting to me at the start of the novel was Ozeki's inclusion of herself as a character into this novel. The novel becomes a really personal thing, and I love the fact that knowing that Ruth is herself makes the novel a different level of realistic. It's not just what any person might do in a certain situation, it's Ozeki imagining herself doing these things, inserting herself into situations. Really interesting and cool.
Nao's voice was so clear, unique and vibrant. It was hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. She had such a funny way of looking at things: part of which was a cultural difference and part of which was just an inherent uniqueness in her as a person. I loved listening to her letters and I became really emotionally attached to her as the novel went on.
Secondary characters: 4.5/5
Again, I loved how Ozeki included her husband and her townspeople in the narrative. It lent them an extra dimension of realness and made me feel like I understood Ozeki more. I don't know if I have ever read so personal a novel. Ozeki is deeply ingrained in each word she writes.
Nao's father was a really fascinating character. There were times that I was disgusted with him, and times that I pitied him. But I saw him through Nao's eyes, and thus watched as she began to understand his past and why he was the way he was in new ways.
Finally, Old Jiko was a riot. At first, I was unsure if I was going to like her character. The old grandmother who serves as a "spirit guide" almost? But Old Jiko was fiery and mysterious at the same time, and I loved her interactions with Nao.
Writing style: 4/5
The alternating points of view could be slightly jarring at times, but Ozeki is adept at combining the two and carrying themes through both. The one story shed light on the other, and vice versa. It was a long novel, but it actually passed very quickly. On the downside, the story did drag a bit in the middle. It was around the time of Ruth's dream-like sequence, which corresponds with Nao's dream-like sequence. I understand why those sequences are important, but it was hard to pay attention and I found myself drifting.
I was a lot more invested in Nao's story than I was in Ruth's. Because Ruth's portion was set in the real world and was so firmly attached to reality, it starkly contrasted with Nao's tale and oftentimes seemed more tedious and slow-moving.
My favorite plot of Ozeki's plot construction is simply the way that she combines so many different interesting things and themes. She brings in Japanese culture, nuns and meditation, physics, mythology, and more. The way that she combined all of this was truly magnificent.
As any well-woven tale, this one ends with some ambiguity. But, after the roller-coaster ride of this novel, to be any other way would be blasphemy. The magic realism aspect really picks up at the end, so be warned of that if that stuff bothers you.
Best scene: Literally all of it
Reminded Me Of: Cloud Atlas
Positives: Nao's voice, interesting choice of Ozeki inserting herself as a character, perfect integration of multiple themes and overarching messages, beautiful writing
Negatives: The writing dragged some in the middle, some of the magical realism comes off contrived and serves as a plot device.
Cover: At first I really disliked this cover, but it grew on me as I read the novel
Verdict: Pretty close to perfect
Rating: 8.4 / 10 (5 stars)
Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!