A Tale For the Time Being

ataleforthetimebeingA Tale For the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
rating 8.5 / contemp.

There are at least two interwoven stories involved in this tale. The first concerns Yasutani Nao, a 15-year old Japanese girl, partly raised in California, who writes in her diary from Tokyo. She writes a lot about her difficult life, her 104-year old great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun with whom she spent some time, and an uncle who was a scholar and then a kamikaze pilot.

Nao’s diaries include a memory from 9/11 so the chronology is hard to figure. Is Nao is 15 (or so) in 2001 or is she 5 then – probably 5 – but then she should be in California. The tsunami was in 2011, 10 years after 9/11/01 which was 70 years after the 1941 suicide missions.

No, she is 15 in 2001 and the tsunami was 10 years after this diary reference – the diary might have actually been written much later – up to 10 years? (if it came from the tsunami!) .  – oh well – they are all gifts to the “time being” – as the epigram by Dōgen Zenji says – –

The other major plot line is that of Ruth, a novelist, who lives with her husband, Oliver, on Cortes Island to the east of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. One day Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach and discovers the diary writings and an old watch. At first the couple thinks these are artifacts of the recent tsunami and Ruth has to research it to find anything out about the watch or Jiko – possibly historical. Ruth reads the diaries with a bit of assistance from neighbors.

I really rather enjoyed Ruth’s sections more than Nao’s, probably because Nao is a teenager, but possibly because the lifestyle described sounds wonderful. Nao’s sections were interesting but they didn’t hold the charm.

From her great-grandmother Nao learns about zanza a kind of Buddhist meditation from which she acquires “supapawa” and also about her great uncle Haruki.

Nao seems preoccupied with suicides, her father’s, her uncle’s, the 9/11 guys, her own possibly.  The plot unfolds almost as if it were constructed like origami – Ruth and Oliver discuss the implications of Nao’s relationships and the difficulties in her/all life.  And everything almost comes together at the end.

Themes – a huge strength – Ozeki  manages to weave Buddhism and quantum physics into a tale of time-travel  and,  remarkably,  it works  (with dose of suspension of disbelief).

Good review –LA Times: 

Interview at Bookslut:

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