A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.

Title: A Tale for the Time Being
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publisher: Viking Adult
Expected Release: March 12, 2013
Source: publisher (NetGalley)


“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.

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!

A Tale for the Time Being will appeal to those who enjoy contemporary fiction, those who enjoy a bit of the fantastic with some magical realism, those who like their fiction to be intertwined with science, philosophy, history, and politics. Marcel Proust is quoted in the book: “Every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self.” Ozeki explores some thought-provoking angles concerning the importance of the reader to a novel. This novel challenged and stretched my thinking, and I always appreciate that.

This was my first time reading any of Ozeki’s books, and I am left with the compulsion to go buy everything she’s written. I am certain this novel is going to end up listed as one of the best releases of the year.

A Tale for the Time Being was released today, March 12, 2013, by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

  • Very excited to see a great review of this, I’ve been hoping to hear good things!

  • I’m a huge Haruki Murakami fan, and there were a number of times while reading Ozeki’s book when I was reminded of Murakami’s earlier novels and short stories. I definitely loved this one!

  • Great review! I saw this one on NetGalley and it definitely got my attention. I am not a big Murakami fan (although I say that only because I DNF’d 1Q84…haven’t tried his other stuff yet)…do you think it would be harder for me to connect with it as a result?

  • I really don’t think you’d have trouble connecting with this one even if you weren’t a fan of Murakami’s 1Q84, but it does get pretty cerebral toward the end. I was reminded of Murakami’s earlier stuff but it was more like glimpses. Ozeki has her own style, for sure, and this was a much, much easier read than Murakami’s later novels. (I’m only on Chapter 2 of 1Q84 so I’m trying to answer without a comparison of my own, only what I’ve heard from friends who’ve tried to read it without having read anything else by him).

    If you ever decide to give Murakami another try, I’d recommend his collection of short stories, The Elephant Vanishes” or, if you like coming of age stories, Norwegian Wood.

  • Oh! I want to read this one SO BAD! I keep hearing great things about it. Fab review 🙂