A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For The Time BeingShortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki tells the story of a diary written a decade ago by a Japanese teenage girl called Nao which is washed up on an island off British Colombia in a Hello Kitty lunchbox after the tsunami in 2011.  The diary is discovered by a novelist called Ruth who tries to find out what happened to Nao and her family, including her great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun and her great-uncle, Haruki, a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War.  

Those who dismiss Booker Prize-shortlisted books as turgid or too literary need to read ‘A Tale for the Time Being’.  It is a book which poses some deep philosophical and metaphysical questions about time, space and the interconnectedness of just about everything yet it is immensely readable and can be enjoyed by those who know nothing about Zen Buddhism.  Philosophy aside, the story is based fundamentally on inventive storytelling and excellent character development.  Nao’s diary entries in particular were very engaging and Ozeki captures the voice of a teenage girl very well.

My one gripe about the story is that Ruth’s decision to read the diary entries episodically in between her investigations into Nao’s life doesn’t fit convincingly with her strong desire to find out what happened to Nao and her family.  It would surely have made much more sense for her to read the diary all in one go.  However, my less cynical side is willing to overlook this.  After all, making this particular narrative aspect more realistic would have resulted in a less compelling story and would have revealed too much too soon.

I am really pleased that ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ made it on to the Booker shortlist as it really does offer something genuinely different. This is partly because stories featuring 104-year-old anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist nuns are not particularly common but it is also partly because it is not what many people would consider to be “typical” Man Booker Prize material (if there is such a thing).  Will it win?  I don’t know, but I think it is a very strong contender and if its appearance on the shortlist means that more people discover and enjoy Ozeki’s work, then that can only be a good thing.


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21 responses to “A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

  1. I’ve pre-ordered the paperback which I think will be released around New Year’s day or something like that. I’ve been so anxious to read the book. Glad to know that you enjoyed it and recommend it. It being a readable Booker short list finalist doesn’t hurt either. Thanks for your review!


  2. Everything about this book is unusual. Like an Iris Murdoch’s novels it contains much more than a story, it is full of philosophy and also the physical structure of the hardback is strange. It has an ephemeral feel to it, as if it is so old the back spine has come loose and dropped off. It really is well worth reading in the hardback, I cannot imagine the paperback having this temporary, damaged feel to it. Even the author’s name looks as though it has been written on the broken back with a felt tip pen. Which all may seem irrelevant…until you read it.


  3. Glad to read a review of this book. prior to publication it was being hyped a lot on Twitter. But how would I know if those people had even read the book?


  4. Thanks for this review. This one certainly stood out to me as among the most intriguing on the Booker shortlist and the more I hear from people who’ve actually read it the more it sounds like one I should pick up.


  5. I really like the sound of this novel, so far I have only read one of the shortlist this year, but whether it wins or not this might be one to look out for.


  6. Just ordered as I need a new read… my best friend at school was Japanese and she was here from age 7 to 14. When her dad was transferred back at that age, we were both traumatised. I really missed her, because I felt we understood how life’s pressures were for each other, both coming from Oriental backgrounds.

    She struggled to adjust on her return. She’s now living in London again, having married a European. I will be fascinated to read this.


  7. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I *love* the sound of “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist nuns”!


  8. Ruth Ozeki is Canadian (as I am). You might be interested in this Canadian CBC radio interview with the author. Here is the link: http://www.cbc.ca/thenextchapter/episode/2013/09/16/shelaghs-extended-conversation-with-ruth-ozeki/


  9. Fictionquest

    This book arrived last week… I heard the interview mentioned by Joanne Booy, it is very well done and very interesting to learn that the author had to do a complete revision after the tsumami in Japan.


  10. I’ve read a lot of good reviews for this book, so will definitely be checking it out. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂


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  13. It’s looks like I was pretty late in picking up this book but I’m so glad I did! I absolutely adored it. I loved the different layers it had and the complexity of it. Once I started it I couldn’t put it down!


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  15. Thank you for your review. I really enjoyed a Tale for The Time being.


  16. Books Under the Bed

    A great review, I hope you don;t mind, I’ve added a link to this review at the bottom of my review.


  17. Pingback: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Obeki | Books Under the Bed

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