A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Published: Viking Adult (2013), Hardcover, 432pg
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Magical Realism, Sci-fi

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. (from Amazon)

You know sometimes how you start reading a book like it’s no big deal, and then BAM! It turns amazing and wonderful and OMFG WOW and you have no idea how to process what just happened, let alone write a review for it?

Yeah, that’s what happened with me and A Tale for the Time Being.

I was first attracted to it because of the cover, only vaguely knowing what the story itself was about. Something something Japan Zen Buddhism some sort of diary something? Sounds great! Little did I know HOW great it’d actually be.

It’s not just a diary about a teenage girl in Japan writing about her Zen Buddhist great-grandmother. It’s also not just about fictional!Ruth Ozeki and her life on a remote Canadian island. It’s about both of those things, and the interaction between them, and the interaction between US as readers and the book we’re reading. It’s got quantum thingies and Zen thingies and lots of meta and history woven throughout. It’s mind-blowing! Almost Inception-y, by the end, only literary and amazing.

It’s not often I get to read a book that shifts my way of thinking about things, where I get to learn stuff about real life and fictional life AND about myself, too. It’s maybe not an “easy” book, because you’ll probably work a bit to get through the story (which is pretty traumatic in places) if not the quantum and the Zen, but it’s definitely worth it. The writing flows so smoothly, anyway, that even if you trip up on a bit of twisty something you probably won’t even notice for a while.

Plus it’s just such a COOL book. I mean, how many books have YOU read where the author is one of the protagonists, and it’s not non-fiction?1

Read: March 22-25, 2013

I love it when books are stuffed full of things! I learned a lot about Japan here, both modern and (recent) historical. I also learned a lot about ravens and stuff about Zen monks, and about how people are terrible but also kinda okay.

What’s the last thing you learned from a book?


  1. Myself…none, except for this one. That I can remember, anyway!

6 thoughts on “A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki”

  1. You’ve obviously haven’t read much metafiction. Authorial intrusion is a dime-a-dozen 🙂

    I’ve seen the cover of this book around and yeah, it is very attractive. Yes although most times I’ll leave a book if it’s not working for me but then sometimes I’ll persevere and most times it wasn’t worth it. Sometimes it is.

    1. Damned Conjurer, this book moves beyond the “dime-a-dozen” instances of metafiction in today’s literature. What Ozeki’s great trick is that she makes it difficult to distinguish between attempts to build up and break down the 4th wall.

  2. ME TOO THIS BOOK. I read an excerpt from this in the, like, NetGalley Forthcoming Books Excerpt Sampler thing that they released earlier this year, and liked it so much I bought it for my mother sight unseen. Recentlyer I got a review copy from NetGalley and read it and enjoyed it so much. What did you think of the ending? Can we talk about how great the ending was? I loved the ending SO HARD.

    (I was really upset when she became a prostitute however. That felt — jarring. Like it didn’t belong to the rest of the book.)

    1. Yay, the ending! Although at first I WAS kind of like, “wtf just happened,” looking back at the rest of the book you could track the build up into the weirder situations. I liked that it was happy and everything worked out, too.

      I was surprised about the prostitution thing, too, especially since I hadn’t seen the hints from the beginning (the cafe thing, that hostess setting up dates, the pervert whatsit, etc.). But I thought it made sense character development-wise, at least. The only really jarring thing for me was the scene(s) with her first “boyfriend,” the whole dressing up/role-playing thing. That didn’t feel like it fit in with the rest of the book– stylistically I guess?

  3. I *loved* this book. Nao’s voice still rings in my head, months after reading the book (I read an ARC of it). So moving, so interconnected, so I-can’t-believe-she-just-pulled-that-off.

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