Title: A Tale For The Time Being
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Rating: 5/5 stars
A Tale For The Time Being is an audiobook I picked up on a complete whim. I have been hearing about the novel over the past year, and was intrigued by its premise: alternating between the life of a teenage Japanese girl and an American woman, separated by both space and time. Utterly unique, intelligent, and moving – this book has climbed onto my Top of 2015 list, possibly Top of All Time – for it’s a tale I’ll remember for not just the time being, but for years beyond this.
You need to be a little bit crazy. Crazy is the price you pay for having an imagination. It’s your superpower. Tapping into the dream. It’s a good thing not a bad thing.
The audiobook was beautifully narrated by the book’s own author, Ruth Ozeki. It might sound odd, but I am at times dubious of the author’s ability to narrate their own tale (some just don’t have the vocals for it, truth be told), but Ruth did a beautiful job with each of the different voices. As she’s ethnically Japanese, this meant that the occasional Japanese phrases in the novel were beautifully conveyed with feeling. While I missed out on seeing the appendices and footnotes with the audio version, the experience was extremely rewarding as Nao’s chapters were made for audio. The narration between the two characters were distinct, yet it also managed to weave in a sense of inescapable destiny between them. I would love to go and reread this book in its physical form, but the audio version is definitely special and highly recommended.
I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. 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.
What I enjoyed most about A Tale For The Time Being was its sense of connection and fate. The story introduces us to Nao, who’s writing in a diary detailing the last days of her life – ranging from being bullied at school to her dad’s suicide attempt. Ruth discovers Nao’s diary some years later, as part of a collection of artifacts which drifted to her remote island home. As we unravel Nao’s story, we also become pulled into the story of her father, her great uncle, and her great grandmother. With each day, Ruth becomes more entranced with Nao’s story – and sought to solve the ending of the story on her own. This may sound confusing, but even in audiobook form, the story remains clear and engaging. I loved the sense of mystery and wonder which shrouded the events of Nao’s life. The book also weaves in tragedies of the real world into the tale, with the 2011 Japan Earthquake, 9/11 and WWII all making a grand impact to the plot. This results in the book’s events being palpable and realistic, despite its near fantastical turn.
The main characters of the book is incredibly well-fleshed out. I quickly took to Nao and her irreverent, often uncomfortably honest narrations. Her chapters are humorous, yet hidden beneath it all is a profound sense of loss and numbness – and Nao is almost at her breaking point when we meet her. I loved seeing her complicated relationships with her parents, yet it’s Nao’s respect and love for her great-grandmother which is the most moving. I adored their scenes together, and how the elderly woman has helped shaped Nao into the person she is today. Nao is also often intrigued by the loft concepts of time, space, and being – all aspects which the book explores in details. Nao’s character arc is wondrous, at times harrowing, but ultimately hopeful and heartwarming.
An unfinished book. left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will and ruthless determination to tame it again.
Ruth largely plays as an observer to the events in Nao’s life – and her chapters are, if possible, even more desolated and bleak. Stranded on a remote island where electricity is unstable, and the everyone knows each other’s business – Ruth was feeling increasingly trapped. When she finally discovers Nao’s book, Ruth finds an escape from her own world and finally emerges from her writer’s block – here was a story that she truly wanted to see the ending of. I enjoyed the nuances to Ruth’s character, as well as her relationship with her husband – Oliver. However, I felt they – like us – remain readers rather than players of the story for the most part. I loved how the book came together in the end, though!
The writing style is atmospheric and haunting – especially in its Japanese chapters. It’s at once ponderous and humorous, at times chilling while at others, inspirational. While I usually struggle with epistolary formats in book, I found A Tale For The Time Being utilised different media format in an apt and poignant ways. From the journal diaries of Nao or Haruki I, to the email exchanges between Ruth and her various correspondences. Each of these formats pieced together to form an intricate and moving puzzle.
Life is full of stories. Or maybe life is only stories.
I also loved how this book explored the themes of time and of identity. There are endless observations about the minutiae of life in this novel, some humorous, some heartbreaking. This is one of those rare books that speaks to my heart, and I know I will visit it time and again, in both audio and physical form. It’s raw, honest, affecting, and makes me believe in cosmic connections – one of the best magical realism books I’ve ever read!
Have you read this brilliant novel? Do you often enjoy books which play on the concept of time?