April 2013 Books

Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

4 of 4
A Tale for the Time Being
432 pages; Viking Adult
"A Time Being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and ever one of us who is, or was, or ever will be," writes 16-year-old Nao Yasutani from a cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, Tokyo. To escape bullying by her schoolmates, Nao has decided to end her life, but not before recording - for posterity's sake - the sotries and teachings of Jiko, her 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Zen Buddhist nun who lives in a temple high in the mountains of Miyagi. On the other side of the Pacific, on a remote island in British Columbia, writer Ruth is walking along the beach when she discovers a barnacled plastic. In it she finds a Hello Kitty lunch box containing Nao's journal, an antique wristwatch, and a sheaf of letters. Thus begins Ruth Ozeki's masterfully woven novel, A Tale for the Time Being (Viking), wherein two seemingly distant characters are locked together through present and past. Entwining Japanese language with WWII history, pop culture with Proust, Zen with quantum mechanics, Ozeki, best-selling author of My Year of Meats and a Buddhist priest herself, alternates between the voices of the two women to produce a spellbinding tale. The journal offers Ruth the opportunity to ponder Jiko and Nao's existence, and her own, as well as the connection between reader and writer. "It feels like I'm reaching forward through time to touch you...," writes Nao, "like a message in a bottle, cast out onto the ocean of time and space" - astutely describing the way words can transcend boundaries, their message of collective humanity never dulled by the passage of time.
— Abbe Wright