“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.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humor 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.
What I like about Ruth Ozeki’s books are the unusual themes she pursues. Her first novel A Year of Meats made a huge impression on me, as did this book.
The story is multi-faceted covering very different strands e.g. a Japanese kamikazi pilot ‘s life & letters, WWII; the dilemma of Schrodinger’s cat which takes us into the Quantum world.; the whereabouts and identity of Nao the schoolgirl diarist; the narrator’s life on a small island off the coast of BC,. Canada; how Island life demands self-sufficiency and a willingness to deal with the unpredictable, and dangerous.
The sections I enjoyed most were those about Nao’s great grandmother , Jiko, a Buddhist nun. We hear Jiko’s story, and details of her life in a tiny traditional Zen temple, in modern times. Old Jiko used to tell Nao: only now. In other words: stay focussed on the present moment. Jiko also said: Up/down, down/up, all the same. A challenging statement for modern Western readers.
The book is rich in detail and characters, themes and ideas. I will definitely re-read it in a year or two. If you’re looking for an unusual, engrossing read, then this book will not disappoint.