Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A ziplocked plastic bag is found washed onto a beach in Desolation Sound in British Columbia in Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. The bag contains a carefully protected collection of items, including some letters; an art deco watch; a contemporary diary written in Japanese by a suicidal 16-year-old girl and concealed inside the covers of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu; and a much older journal written in French by a Japanese soldier. The finder, Ruth -- it's a novel, but yes, her name is the same as the author's and her occupation is also the same -- becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the people connected with the journals.

Buddhism, bullying, war, 9/11, the Tohoku tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, the connections between writers and readers, quantum physics -- Ozeki covers a lot of topics while sustaining a compelling, character-based narrative. I especially loved getting to know Nao, the Japanese school girl, as well as her 104-year-old great-grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist nun.

I listened to the delightful audiobook [Blackstone: 14 hrs] recorded by the author, who mentions in the afterword that she always reads her work aloud as part of her writing process. In a tale that plays with the nature of time itself, it is no accident that Nao sounds like 'now.'

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