Ruth Ozeki opens her third novel, A Tale for the Time Being, with a small deception — or, more accurately, a sleight of hand. Forgoing context or explanation, she plunges us into the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl named Nao ...such an exquisite novel: funny, tragic, hard-edged and ethereal at once ...constructed around a pair of interlocking narratives — Nao's diary, which is really more of an extended suicide note, and the story of Ruth, a novelist who lives on Vancouver Island and one day finds washed up on the beach a package containing the diary and other artifacts ... Both Nao and Ruth are faced with complex puzzles: for the former, the question of her own existence, and for the latter, a memoir of her late mother's descent into Alzheimer's... Both are trapped by old ways of thinking, old ways of seeing, by the weight of their respective pasts.
...in A Tale for the Time Being is a 16-year-old Japanese girl named Nao who never makes an appearance in the flesh. Nao’s lively voice, by turns breezy, petulant, funny, sad and teenage-girl wise, reaches the reader in the pages of her diary, which, as Ruth Ozeki begins to fold and pleat her intricate parable of a novel...lucky for Ruth, the diary’s mysteries are a gift for any storyteller, even more so for one feeling stuck about her next project. Each page sends Ruth scurrying in pursuit of clues about the girl’s existence... This is a book that does not give up its multiple meanings easily, gently but insistently instructing the reader to progress slowly in order to contemplate the porous membrane that separates fact from fiction, self from circumstance, past from present.
From the first page of A Tale for the Time Being, Ozeki plunges us into a tantalizing narration that brandishes mysteries to be solved and ideas to be explored ... Ozeki masterfully develops the two parallel stories, creating a virtual dialogue between the blocked writer and the diarist...plenty of Japanese pop culture, juicily but scathingly portrayed as exploitative of vulnerable young women and a tool in the enforcement of conformism ... She finishes off her dazzling tapestry of metaphor and meaning with a short, tender letter from Ruth to Nao. This erudite author knows that in the end, the most important truths are simple.
...the diary ends up telling us more about Nao and ultimately about Ruth herself, as she processes the 16-year-old girl’s experience ... This setup for A Tale for the Time Being, the new novel by Canadian-American writer Ruth Ozeki, allows for a fascinating multigenerational tapestry of long ago, recent past, and present. The work is fiction, but intriguingly self-referential...most of the writing resonates with an immediacy and rawness that is believable and touching ... The stack of letters tucked into the diary offer another dimension of time and reality ... Ozeki powerfully evokes Ruth’s present-day struggles, painting a vivid portrait of life on a sparsely populated island... But Nao’s diary becomes a lifeline to another time and place more vibrant than her own, offering a vehicle for transformation, with the experiences of the past serving as catalysts for the future.
A Tale for the Time Being offers a huge pun in its title. The time being means for our current days and also refers to one of the main characters in the book, a suicidal 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl named Naoko ... She discovers the schoolgirl in a diary preserved against the ocean, a diary which, thanks to the recent Japanese tsunami, washes up on the shore of her British Columbian island residence. Yes, Ozeki turns herself into a character in this book and portrays herself as reading the diary in a race against a huge wave of oncoming time ... 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.
A decade after publishing her last fiction, Ruth Ozeki emerges with a terrific new novel full of breakthroughs both personal and literary ...she 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 as well, all while creating a vulnerable and unique voice for the 16-year-old girl at its center ... Nao’s dire and dramatic entries alternate with a third-person narrative of Ruth and Oliver’s more contemplative life on a stormy Northwest island... Ozeki has produced a dazzling and humorous work of literary origami: The narrative sections fold over on themselves in time and theme and wordplay.
Whenever the word 'time' comes up — 'wasting time,' 'about time,' 'in time' — the reader must stop and think about the many angles of approach to that subject in Ruth Ozeki’s delightful yet sometimes harrowing new novel, A Tale for the Time Being ... Nao’s future reader, Ruth, has left Manhattan to live with her husband on the aptly named Desolation Sound in a community of refugees from the modern world. There she reads the diary slowly, at the same speed she imagines Nao wrote it, and gradually the teenager’s world impinges more and more on Ruth’s ...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 ... All are drawn into the stories of two 'time beings,' Ruth and Nao, whose own fates are inextricably bound.
So begins and ends A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki's rich and engaging new novel. Two women on different continents have written these words, one in a diary and one in a letter ... This binary novel alternates between the two women and their search for meaning in their lives, but it is Nao's sections that drive the narrative. Ruth, like us, is captivated by Nao's voice. She adds copious footnotes (163) and appendices to Nao's story, creating a virtual yet incredibly intimate conversation between diarist and reader, and thus exploring the fluid dynamic of good literature. Ozeki blurs the distinction between writer and reader... this satisfying novel is about discovering home in the moment, or now, and also home within ourselves.
Throw in the second world war, the reader-writer relationship, depression, ecological collapse, suicide, origami, a 105-year-old anarchist nun and a schoolgirl's soiled knickers, and you have Ruth Ozeki's third novel, A Tale for the Time Being ...The fact that Ruth is itching to know may make her decision to read Nao's story episodically, in the on-off rhythm in which it was written (rather than to speed-read to the end and find out), feel contrived. But it gives Ozeki the chance to switch between the now of Ruth's quietly claustrophobic life with her artist-naturalist husband Oliver and the turbulent now of Nao, whose story begins in Tokyo at the turn of the new century ... Seen from space, or from the vantage point of those conversant with Zen principles, A Tale for the Time Being is probably a deep and illuminating piece of work, with thoughtful things to say about the slipperiness of time.
At times, particularly in the first half of the book, ,em>A Tale for the Time Being could have benefited from more editing ... One wonders if Ozeki and her editor rushed to get the novel out in time for the second anniversary of the March 11, 2011 tsunami ... But Ozeki deserves praise for tackling subjects few novelists ever would have broached. A 750-word review can’t do justice to the many big ideas and lovely moments in this book ... The conversations between Nao and Jiko are smart and moving. In an era when American novels rarely have the courage to address large themes, it’s a pleasure to read a book that dares to think big.
Ozeki’s absorbing third novel (after All Over Creation) is an extended meditation on writing, time, and people in time: 'time beings' ...Nao actually ends up writing her own life story, and the diary eventually washes up on the shore of Canada’s Vancouver Island, where a novelist called Ruth lives ... The characters’ lives are finely drawn, from Ruth’s rustic lifestyle to the Yasutani family’s straitened existence after moving... 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.
On the beach of an island off British Columbia’s coast, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox containing a stack of letters and a red book. The book contains 16-year-old Nao’s diary, bound within the covers of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time—and that’s no accident, since both funny, grieving Nao and blocked, homesick Ruth are obsessed with time: how it passes, how we live in it ... letters in the lunchbox are Haruki’s, and his secret army diary begins the book’s extended climax, which transcends bitter anguish to achieve heartbreaking poignancy... 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.