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A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel Paperback – December 31, 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 1,135 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ozeki has shown herself, in the novels My Year of Meats (1998) and All over Creation (2003), to be a careful, considerate writer who obviously insists on writing what she wants to write and in the fashion she prefers. That special care and concern are also detectable in her latest novel, an intriguing, even beautiful narrative remarkable for its unusual but attentively structured plot. Ruth—the character Ruth—is a writer living in a remote corner of the Pacific coast of British Columbia who is currently thwarted by writer’s block as she attempts to compose a memoir. One day she finds a collection of materials contained in a lunchbox that has washed up on the beach. As if she has unleashed a magical mist, the items she finds inside, namely a journal and a collection of letters, envelop her in the details—the dramas—of someone else’s life. The life she has stumbled into is that of a Japanese teenager, who, believing suicide is the only relief for her teenage angst, nevertheless is determined, before she commits that final act, to write down the story of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. We go from one story line to the other, back and forth across the Pacific, but the reader never loses place or interest. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The publisher is in love with this novel and will do everything from providing an author tour to presenting extensive radio and online publicity campaigns to bring its virtues to a wide reading audience. --Brad Hooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

Praise for A Tale for the Time Being
 
“An exquisite novel: funny, tragic, hard-edged and ethereal at once.”
—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“As contemporary as a Japanese teenager’s slang but as ageless as a Zen koan, Ruth Ozeki’s new novel combines great storytelling with a probing investigation into the purpose of existence. . . . She plunges us into a tantalizing narration that brandishes mysteries to be solved and ideas to be explored. . . . Ozeki’s profound affection for her characters makes A Tale for the Time Being as emotionally engaging as it is intellectually provocative.”
—The Washington Post

“A delightful yet sometimes harrowing novel . . . Many of the elements of Nao’s story—schoolgirl bullying, unemployed suicidal ‘salarymen,’ kamikaze pilots—are among a Western reader’s most familiar images of Japan, but in Nao’s telling, refracted through Ruth’s musings, they become fresh and immediate, occasionally searingly painful. Ozeki takes on big themes . . . all drawn into the stories of two ‘time beings,’ Ruth and Nao, whose own fates are inextricably bound.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Sixteen-year-old schoolgirl Nao Yasutani’s voice is the heart and soul of this very satisfying book. . . . The contemporary Japanese style and use of magical realism are reminiscent of author Haruki Murakami.”
—USA Today

“A terrific novel full of breakthroughs both personal and literary. . . . Ozeki revels in Tokyo teen culture—this goes far beyond Hello Kitty—and explores quantum physics, military applications of computer video games, Internet bullying, and Marcel Proust, all while creating a vulnerable and unique voice for the sixteen-year-old girl at its center. . . . Ozeki has produced a dazzling and humorous work of literary origami. . . . Nao’s voice—funny, profane and deep—is stirring and unforgettable as she ponders the meaning of her life.”
—The Seattle Times

“Beautifully written, intensely readable and richly layered . . . one of the best books of the year so far.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Masterfully woven . . . Entwining Japanese language with WWII history, pop culture with Proust, Zen with quantum mechanics, Ozeki alternates between the voices of two women to produce a spellbinding tale.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine

“Forget the proverbial message in a bottle: This Tale fractures clichés as it affirms the lifesaving power of words. . . . As Ozeki explores the ties between reader and writer, she offers a lesson in redemption that reinforces the pricelessness of the here and now.”
—Elle

“A powerful yarn of fate and parallel lives.”
—Good Housekeeping

“Ozeki weaves together Nao’s adolescent yearnings with Ruth’s contemplative digressions, adding bits of Zen wisdom, as well as questions about agency, creativity, life, death, and human connections along the way. A Tale for the Time Being is a dreamy, spiritual investigation of how to gracefully meet the waves of time, which, in the end, come for us all.”
—The Daily Beast

“As we read Nao’s story and the story of Ozeki’s reading of it, as we go back and forth between the text and the notes, time expands for us. It opens up onto something resembling narrative eternity . . . page after page, slowly unfolding. And what a beautiful effect that is for a novel to create.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered

“Superb . . . her best and most adventurous novel to date . . . likely to leave readers feeling its emotional impact for a long time to come.”
—BookPage

“Magnificent . . . brings together a Japanese girl’s diary and a transplanted American novelist to meditate on everything from bullying to the nature of conscience and the meaning of life. . . . The novel’s seamless web of language, metaphor, and meaning can’t be disentangled from its powerful emotional impact: These are characters we care for deeply, imparting vital life lessons through the magic of storytelling. A masterpiece, pure and simple.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An intriguing, even beautiful narrative remarkable for its unusual but attentively structured plot. . . . We go from one story line to the other, back and forth across the Pacific, but the reader never loses place or interest.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Ozeki’s absorbing novel is an extended meditation on writing, time, and people in time. . . . The characters’ lives are finely drawn, from Ruth’s rustic lifestyle to the Yasutani family’s straitened existence after moving from Sunnyvale, California, to Tokyo. Nao’s winsome voice contrasts with Ruth’s intellectual ponderings to make up a lyrical disquisition on writing’s power to transcend time and place. This tale from Ozeki, a Zen Buddhist priest, is sure to please anyone who values a good story broadened with intellectual vigor.”
Publishers Weekly
 
“An extraordinary novel about a courageous young woman, riven by loneliness, by time, and (ultimately) by tsunami. Nao is an inspired narrator and her quest to tell her great grandmother’s story, to connect with her past and with the larger world is both aching and true. Ozeki is one of my favorite novelists and here she is at her absolute best—bewitching, intelligent, hilarious, and heartbreaking, often on the same page.”
—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of This Is How You Lose Her
 
“A beautifully interwoven novel about magic and loss and the incomprehensible threads that connect our lives. I loved it.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love

A Tale for the Time Being is a timeless story. Ruth Ozeki beautifully renders not only the devastation of the collision between man and the natural world, but also its often miraculous results.”
—Alice Sebold, bestselling author of The Lovely Bones
 
“Ingenious and touching. . . . I read it with great pleasure.”
—Philip Pullman, award-winning author of The Golden Compass
 
“One of the most deeply moving and thought-provoking novels I have read in a long time. In precise and luminous prose, Ozeki captures both the sweep and detail of our shared humanity. The result is gripping, fearless, inspiring and true.”
—Madeline Miller, author of the Orange Prize winner The Song of Achilles
 
A Tale for the Time Being is equal parts mystery and meditation. The mystery is a compulsive, gritty page-turner. The meditation—on time and memory, on the oceanic movement of history, on impermanence and uncertainty, but also resilience and bravery—is deep and gorgeous and wise. A completely satisfying, continually surprising, wholly remarkable achievement.”
—Karen Joy Fowler, bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club
 
“A great achievement, and the work of a writer at the height of her powers. Ruth Ozeki has not only reinvigorated the novel itself, the form, but she’s given us the tried and true, deep and essential pleasure of characters we love and who matter.”
—Jane Hamilton, bestselling author of A Map of the World
 
“Profoundly original, with authentic, touching characters and grand, encompassing themes, Ruth Ozeki’s novel proves that truly great stories—like this one—can both deepen our understanding of self and remind us of our shared humanity.”
—Deborah Harkness, bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night
 
“I’ve long been an admirer of Ruth Ozeki’s work, and her exquisite, richly textured novel, A Tale for the Time Being, marks the stunning return of a writer at the height of her powers. Seamlessly weaving together tales of the past and present that are equally magical and heartbreaking, she transports us to the worlds of Nao and Jiko, in Japan, and Ruth, on a remote island in British Columbia, where their worlds collide as they reach across time to find the meaning of life and home. . . .  A wise and wonderfully inventive story that will resonate through time.”
—Gail Tsukiyama, bestselling author of The Samurai’s Garden
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 978-0-670-02663-0 edition (December 31, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143124870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143124870
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a wonderful book. It was multilayered, moving back and forth between the experience of a young girl in Japan and a woman living in Canada. The story explored themes of Zen Buddhism, quantum physics, animal spirits and totems, the effects of the tsunami in Japan, bullying, mental illness and suicide, and moral choices during wartime. All of these weighty themes are combined in a very enjoyable, seamless way. I couldn't put the book down. It has an uplifting, hopeful ending. It is whimsical, graceful and smart. The author has given a wonderful gift to the world. Thank you! This is the first review I have ever written for Amazon, and the reason is that I enjoyed the book so much. I would highly recommend this novel!
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Format: Hardcover
It's not often a book gets me excited about reading it as soon as I open it, but that's what happened with A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Right away, in the first few pages, readers are treated to a unique, young voice. Naoko is contemplative, wiser than she realizes, and speaks without tempering her words. She displays a very stark self-awareness which often caused me to catch my breath.

This novel has so many intricate layers, I know I can't do it justice in this review. A colleague of mine once told me he always loves listening to, performing, and conducting Beethoven's 5th Symphony, even though he's done so countless times. For him, it never gets old or stale. He always hears something new, notices something that gives it even more depth and meaning. I can imagine reading A Tale for the Time Being again and again and having this same reaction.

In a way, I think Naoko exemplifies the complexity and full freedom of religion in modern Japanese culture. She isn't overtly religious, but she is very open-minded, which allows her to pull the truths and strength she desperately needs. Naoko's time with her great-grandmother Jiko is profoundly beautiful, and the descriptions of Buddhist traditions and ceremonies are absolutely breathtaking.

Ruth says she "wanted to read at the same rate [Naoko] had lived" and at times found it difficult to resist the temptation to quickly devour the entire story. I definitely shared that feeling! I found myself getting impatient during the scenes with Ruth and Oliver. I just wanted Ruth to get back to reading Naoko's diary. I had to know what happened next!
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Format: Hardcover
Shortlisted for the 2013 Booker, this tells two intertwined tales - of Nao, a Japanese schoolgirl, and of Ruth, a Canadian author of Japanese heritage. Ruth has found Nao's journal washed up on the shore and begins to obsess about finding out whether the people and events Nao discusses are true. Nao's story is of a young girl who has lived most of her life in California but has now returned to Japan and we see the society through her eyes.

Nao's story is interesting, if bleak. Having been brought up in California, Nao is seen as an outsider by her classmates on her return to Japan. We learn of the extreme bullying she is both subjected to and participates in at school, leading her to drop out. Meantime, her suicidal father is making repeated failed attempts to end his own life, leading Nao to harbour suicidal thoughts of her own. In an effort to break this cycle, her parents send her to spend the summer with her old great-grandmother, a Zen nun, who rapidly becomes Nao's sole support and spiritual guide. While here, Nao learns the story of her great-uncle, a war-hero who died during WWII.

Ruth's story is a dull distraction. Ruth is a writer, struggling with long-term writers block, giving Ozeki the opportunity to tell the reader, at length, how very, very tough life is for writers - even one who lives in fairly idyllic surroundings with no apparent real health or money worries and with a partner who loves and supports her. She is also in a perpetual state of existential angst and this part of the novel merely serves to interrupt and slow to a crawl the telling of Nao's tale.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Meet Nao (pronounced "Now"):

-- A suicidal Japanese teenager who lives with her mom and suicidal father;
-- The victim of pretty severe and grotesque bullying;
-- Caught between two cultures (feels like an American, because she grew up in Sunnyvale, CA . . . but moved back to Tokyo with her family after the dot-com bubble burst and her dad lost his job);
-- Loves her 104-year-old great-grandmother, Old Jiko, who is a Buddhist nun.

Meet Ruth:

-- Japanese-American;
-- Left NYC to live in a remote island town in British Columbia;
-- Has a husband, Oliver, and a cat, Schrödinger (nicknamed "Pesto");
-- An author (this book's author, in fact), working on her memoir.

The book is about the intersection of Nao's and Ruth's lives. One day, Ruth is walking along the beach and finds a big Ziploc bag. In the Ziploc, she discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox that contains:

-- A copy of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu;
-- A bundle of letters written in French;
-- A diary written in old-fashioned Kanji; and
-- An old watch.

Upon further inspection, Ruth realizes that the copy of À la recherche du temps perdu is actually Nao's diary. The pages of the book were removed and replaced with blank pages that have been covered in girly, purple handwriting.

As she reads, Ruth learns that Nao wrote the diary sitting in a French maid café in Tokyo. Nao has dropped out of school and is writing the diary because she wants to record the story of Old Jiko's life before she dies. But before she gets to Old Jiko's life, Nao delves into her own life and struggles.
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