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A Tale for the Time Being

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2013)
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there's only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates' bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who's lived more than a century. A diary is Nao's only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao's drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. 

Full of Ozeki's signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published March 11, 2013

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About the author

Ruth Ozeki

15 books5,574 followers
Ruth Ozeki (born in New Haven, Connecticut) is a Japanese American novelist. She is the daughter of anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury.

Ozeki published her debut novel, My Year of Meats, in 1998. She followed up with All Over Creation in 2003. Her new novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was published on March 12, 2013.

She is married to Canadian land artist Oliver Kellhammer, and the couple divides their time between New York City and Vancouver.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 14,722 reviews
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
April 3, 2021
Whimsical, poignant, depressing, and hopeful. A lovely little story with great lyrical writing. I enjoyed Nao's unique voice, her strong personality, and the way she interprets the world and time around her. I think the other POV (Ruth) dragged the book since she didn’t have much of a story—it’s really Nao who is the most compelling.
Profile Image for Zaphoddent.
417 reviews55 followers
July 11, 2017
Dammit this should have been at least a 4 star book!

Till about the second half of part 3, I was all set to give this rave reviews 'cause Nao's story was so compelling and well written plus there wasn't enough of Ruth's woeful tone to grate on the nerves. Then Ruth's dream sequence comes up and ugh it damn near ruins the bloody book. It's ridiculous! Some psychic, whimsical,
zen bullshit. It's not the spiritual realm that's the problem, it's the fact that it comes from almost nowhere and it sounds forced and ridiculous, very unlike Nao's meeting of her ancestors. How bad is it? At first I thought it was a joke within the book. Sadly it wasn't!

The reason it was going to get a great review was the fact that the Nao's sections were well written, dispensing a lot of cultural information without sounding like a lecture. Then the Ruth sections would pop up and it was like going from brilliance to silly trivialities in milliseconds. Kinda jarring and not in a good way. Never read a book that was so bipolar. Found Ruth self pitying and bloody boring. The worst parts were Ruth's dreams!!! Oh lord how annoying, how iffy and again how bloody irritatingly annoying.

Cut out all the Ruth sections and this would have been a much better book. I listened to this and every time Nao's part was over and Ruth's story came up, I groaned. Almost abandoned the book but Nao's story was compelling enough to hang on. Then the end starts drawing closer and I swear I have never been so close to chucking a book in disgust after investing so much time. The only hope was that the brilliance of the Nao sections would override the banality of the Ruth sections. Sadly this did not happen. Should have followed instinct to chuck the book. Definitely not worth the invested time.

On a good note the author reads the audiobook and does a pretty good job.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,675 reviews2,667 followers
July 17, 2020
If I’d had my way, the 2013 Man Booker Prize would have gone to this novel-writing documentary filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priestess from British Columbia, Canada (by way of Japan). A Tale for the Time Being is a rich reflection on what it means to be human in an era of short attention spans, the dearth of meaning, and imminent environmental threat.

The time being: the present moment is what we’re stuck with now and must embrace. The time being: in the Buddhist viewpoint, each human is entrapped by time, which means that we are all in this together; this is an Everyman tale.

On present-day Vancouver Island, “Ruth,” a Japanese-American novelist who is attempting to write a memoir of her mother’s slow demise from Alzheimer’s but has a bad case of writer’s block, stumbles across a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach. Inside she finds a cache of old letters and a teenage girl’s diary, disguised as a copy of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

The diary belonged to sixteen-year-old Nao (pronounced “now” – is it all starting to fit together?) Yasutani, who cheerfully and informally confides in her imagined reader about her life. The past few years in Tokyo have not been easy for her – she’s been the victim of extreme bullying at the hands of her classmates, and suicide seems to run in the family – but she has a guardian angel in the form of her great-grandmother, Buddhist nun Jiko, who is approaching death at age 104 but still represents the voice of wisdom and a timeless perspective.

In a modified epistolary format that includes diaries, letters, e-mails, and an abstract of a disappearing journal article, Ozeki builds her gentle academic mystery: where did the lunchbox come from? How did it wash up in Canada? Are Nao and the other diary subjects still alive and well, or did they die in the 2011 Japanese tsunami? Alternating chapters contrast Nao’s diary entries with Ruth’s reactions and commentary a decade later. Yet, in a delicious outbreak of magic realism, it seems Ruth may actually have some power to change Nao’s fate.

This is a superbly intelligent novel, with concerns ranging from ocean currents and pollution to the wacky quantum physics theory of multiple worlds. Ultimately, it is about being happy in the here and now – not looking to the past or the future for contentment or hope; and not indulging in regret or wishes. As the character Ruth states in the epilogue: “I’d much rather know, but then again, not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.”
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books817 followers
May 8, 2013
What a ride. This novel sucked me in and then spit me out, leaving me gasping as it did. I can't say this book is perfect. It's probably a bit flawed, as many novels are, but with the totality of it meaning so much more than any flaws might take away. None of these flaws come from the writing itself, though, and if you feel some things here and there are a bit slow, please be patient -- Zen Buddhism is a big theme after all -- it picks up quickly and flows again, almost immediately.

There are many postmodern, metafictional elements to the telling of this story, ones we've seen before: footnotes (mostly to explain Japanese words), appendices (read them as they're mentioned; they elucidate but don't bore), a main character who is the novelist (and who, I'm sure, is also not the novelist), but they are so well done and seem so accessible and integral to the tale that none jar or feel over-familiar.

The story's told with some humor in the beginning, enough to lull you (with the voice of the young girl, Nao, in the diary) to almost forgetting a couple of tell-tale bits that surely don't mean what they probably do mean. She's too young, you tell herself, that would be too sad, too horrible. And then when you are hit with what she's endured and is enduring when she reaches her 'now', it's that much more heartbreaking and even hard to read. Adding to the growing darkness is the addition of Nao's great-uncle Haruki's secret diary, which contains some of the most horrific things that were done in WWII -- none of that new to me but still haunting, that being a good word for the whole of this novel.

And so many themes, ones I love, ones that I saw in new ways, mostly to do with time and being (and non-being), as you might guess from the title, but still much more: memory, dreams, the effects of violence, stories, reading and writing (who is actually calling into being, creating, whom?). The handling of these themes is masterful, a word I rarely use in reviews, but when I do, I must give the book 5 stars.

At some point while reading, I was reminded of McEwan's The Child in Time (a novel I love) for one particular scene only, but now that I refresh my memory of that book, there's another superficial connection as well.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,863 followers
July 13, 2013
I attended the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference this week. Just before an afternoon workshop on Wednesday, I chatted with a woman who is writing her memoir.

“I don’t read fiction,” she told me. “Are there any good female writers?”

Not “Are there any female writers you’d recommend?” Just, “Are there any good ones?”

Never mind the 813 ways I wanted to respond to the question. I thought of the last great book I’d read, which happened to be written by a woman. I began to tell her of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

I said something about a teenage girl’s diary washing up on the shore of a remote island in Desolation Sound, British Columbia. About a writer in the doldrums, plodding through her memoir. About a mystery and Zen Buddhism and quantum mechanics.

I did a terrible job of describing this beautiful book, for the woman sitting next to me said, “Oh, mysteries. I would never read a mystery. My husband likes P.D. James, though.”

No, wait, I wanted to say. You don’t understand. It’s not a mystery mystery. There’s just this diary of a young girl being bullied and the tsunami and flotsam and Schrödinger’s cat, and …. But it was too late. Class began and we delved into the mysteries of character development.

Her question made me consider the relevance of author gender. A part of the me thinks Who cares if the writer is male or female? Why can’t we categorize a piece as a fine work of prose without the condescending sub-category of “woman/female” writer? We don’t say male writer, now do we? Yet, when it comes to a work as self-referential as A Tale for the Time Being, it is hard to separate the writer from her thematic approach. Men and women do regard time, space, the natural world, memory and mortality differently, don’t we? Or perhaps we articulate the same beliefs and emotions in a different way. I’m getting all tangled up here. Much like Ruth does as she attempts to sort out the mystery of the diary she finds on the beach.

Ozeki uses the avatar of Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu as a literal and figurative bookend. A copy of this 19th century classic is repurposed as a blank journal and written in by Naoko, or Nao, as she prefers to be called. Nao is a young woman, ethnically Japanese but raised in the United States. The late 90’s tech bubble bursts and the economic collapse sends her family back to Japan. There she buys the journal and uses it to escape from the horror of the physical abuse and psychological torture she experiences at her new high school and the tragedy of her father’s depression. Nao is our guide through much of this story and like her name, Nao is a time being. Her now is in the past, but Nao becomes Ruth’s present.

Many years after Nao’s abominable teenage years, Ruth, the story’s main character – a writer and student of Zen Buddhism, much like Ruth, the book’s author – finds the journal. Enclosed in the diary are several letters written in Japanese, which appear to be from a much earlier time than Nao’s diary entries in English. These letters become a mystery within a mystery. Ruth wonders if the carefully packaged journal is flotsam from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami or jetsam from a young woman crying for help.

It is significant that the title of Proust’s epic novel cum memoir is translated either as In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past, for both titles fit Proust’s and Ozeki’s themes (although the first translation is literal). This is a story of time. How truth and memory shift and are reconstructed with time; how impatient we are for troubled times to pass, yet we are breathless with regret when we realize the time we have wasted on the way. It is an ode to the bliss of the present; an elegy to the lost past.

This is also a story that takes time. It asks that you slow down and turn its pages as carefully as Ruth does Nao’s diary. It is a story of images, of settings, nuances and breath which, like Nao’s diary and the old letters Ruth has translated, “reveals its meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin.”

Ozeki juxtaposes the peace of Ruth’s isolation and simple life on the island with the chaos of Nao’s Tokyo. Yet even the island is subject to the chaos of the natural world. Ruth must dash off e-mails before the latest winter storm knocks out power to their home. She and her husband search their property and beyond for the corpse of the family cat, certain wolves have made quick hors d’oeuvres of kitty. This is in contrast to Nao’s beloved great-grandmother, Jiko, who is a Buddhist nun living a life of elective poverty and self-reliance at a peaceful mountain temple site.

We are reminded that the past never forgets, whether it is found letters or diaries, or a moment captured on the internet that can never truly be erased. We are reminded that it is the present which demands our greatest attention, for the present becomes the past with the beat of a heart, the screech of train, the crash of an airliner into a skyscraper or the crash of a wave on an island.

This is a novel of grand themes, complex themes, themes that require appendices. It is a work of fiction with an extensive bibliography. I tend to steer clear of complicated works of fiction that endeavor to instruct. I simply want a good story. Which Ruth Ozeki offers. Oh boy, does she ever.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews609 followers
May 2, 2019
Update... this is $1.99 again today as a kindle download. It’s still one of my favorite books. It came out the year that “The Goldfinch” won the Pulitzer Prize.
They were both my two top favorites of the year. Great day to pick up the ebook if you’ve not read it yet!

Update: Wow!!!!!!!! $1.99 Kindle special of 'this' book is a GREAT DEAL!!!! "A Tale for The Time Being" came out the same year that "The Goldfinch" won The Pulitzer Prize. For me ---it was a toss up --as I felt this book was as good as winning also! If you've not read this story and have wanted to --or want to check it out --have a Kindle -- the price is fantastic. I like this book so much --that after I read it on Netgalley -- I went and bought a physical copy. (which I still own)


This is the most UN-ordinary Fiction book I've read all year! Its painful -- complicated & riveting!!!
The writing style is piercing with integrity--'charm'--and bravery!

I've picked a stand out-for me-in this book: (note: taken out of context --but its beauty stands alone --won't spoil the story):

"Everyone was superhappy because finding a nodobotoke is a good sign. Muji said its the most important bone, the one we call an Adam's apple in English, but in Japanese, it's called the Throat Buddha, because it's triangular and looks a little bit like the shape of a person sitting zazen. If you can find the Throat Buddha, then the dead person will enter nirvana and return to ocean of eternal tranquility.

One more:
"Sometimes the mind arrives but words don't.
Sometimes words arrive but the mind doesn't
Sometimes mind and words both arrive.
Sometimes neither mind nor words arrive.
Mind and words are time being. Arriving and not-arriving are time being."

Many THUMBS Up -UP & UP to Ruth Ozeki!!! ---

I already miss my friendship with Nao! ---"because 'we' became friends"!
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
April 21, 2017
Ruth Ozeki is an award winning film maker and novelist. A Tale for the Time Being is her third and most ambitious novel and was a finalist for both the Pulitzer and Man Booker awards. In this 2013 autobiographical novel, Ozeki details how a woman named Ruth finds a diary, letters, and watch belonging to a teenaged girl named Naoka sealed inside a ziplock bag. These items most likely traveled to Canada from Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A novelist looking for a good story, Ruth decides to read Nao's diary in real time, embarking on a journey that has readers questioning auspices of both time and life as we know it.

Ruth moved from Manhattan to a small island off of British Columbia after meeting her husband Oliver at a conference. She brought her widowed mother who suffered from Alzheimer's on her move, consolidating her remaining family to one place. Named Desolation Island by its residents, the island has more flora and fauna than people and is home to thriving ecosystems. This is what originally brought Oliver, an Iocene Era enthusiast, along with his cat Pesto, to live there. A tiny community named Whaletown for the bygone industry, the town is home to quirky people who have fascinating stories to tell. Although off of most internet grids, the setting is ideal for writing, and, for the most part, Ruth enjoys living there.

One day while walking along the beach at Jap Ranch, Ruth finds a diary along with letters and a watch, all sealed inside a giant ziplock bag. Oliver believes that they came from Japan following the tsunami, and Ruth has her interest piqued. Struggling to finish a memoir about her mother, Ruth decides to read the writing of sixteen-year-old Nao Yasutani, a Tokyo resident who moved back to Japan from California with her parents following the dot.com bubble crash. Even though Nao's story captivates Ruth, she decides to read the story in real time in order to honor Nao's memory.

The real life Ruth Ozeki embarks on a multi layered story by telling Nao's tale. A time being is a being in time, and this is how Nao chooses to begin her diary. We find out that Nao is old for her grade and tormented by classmates, that her brilliant father can not find a job and constantly contemplates suicide, and that Nao is so American and would rather be back in California but her friends there have discarded her. Her mother strives to keep the family together and sends Nao to live with her great grandmother, a 104 year old Buddhist nun named Jiko, for her summer vacation. What ensues, is a touching relationship, and one that has Nao discovering and preserving her family history in her diary.

Being an American of Japanese descent, Ozeki desires to write of the kamikaze pilots during World War II. She details how the war was different for Japan and the United States and uses the events of 9-11 to contrast the different perspectives. Nao's father Yaruki is named for his uncle who sacrificed his life for his country during the war. Yaruki #1 was a student studying French existentialism and the least likely of soldiers. Drafted at age 19 near the war's completion, he was chosen for a suicide mission, and, with his death, leads his mother Jiko to take the vows of a nun. Ozeki weaves all of these storylines by showing how family history repeats itself with Yaruki #1 and Yaruki #2, and with Yaruki #1 and Nao. Ruth and Oliver contemplate all of these stories as they read the diary, and are left wondering if Nao perishes in the tsunami or if she somehow survived in time. Although I am usually not one who enjoys reading about alternate realities, I found Ozeki's ideas fascinating, and read quickly to find a resolution for both the Yasutani family and for Ruth.

Ruth Ozeki employs a diary, letters, Buddhist teachings, dreams, and Nao's stream of consciousness thoughts to create an exceptional novel. She expertly weaves many storylines together and writes in third person, even when one of the protagonists is meant to be herself. I found her questioning of the time continuum and using this as a means to bring the world closer together to be a thought provoking concept. A new author to me, I found A Tale for the Time Being both thorough and captivating, and rate this gem of a novel 4.5 bright stars.
Profile Image for Scarlet.
187 reviews1,169 followers
October 16, 2013

A Tale for the Time Being is like one of those assorted platters you get in restaurants - there is a little bit of everything but not everything is necessarily appealing. Unlike dining, however, I'm not at the liberty to pick and choose here. Consequently, my reaction to the overall book is kind of hazy. Some portions blew me away (mostly the last quarter). Some portions made me think. Some broke my heart, some left me appalled, some put me to sleep. And then there were these parts that I simply did not understand.

I'm intrigued by this book. It is weird and inventive and very, very deceptive. It is so much more than what it claims to be. It is so dense without actually feeling dense. It is so easy to read but not so easy to comprehend.

A Tale for the Time Being is the story of two women, separated by distance and time, yet intimately bound by a relationship that cuts across all dimensions - one reads what the other has written.

Ruth, a writer living in some obscure island in British Columbia, comes across a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach one morning. Inside, among other things, is a Japanese schoolgirl’s diary. Bound by the hardcover of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time, it opens with an almost cheerful declaration of suicide by a young girl called Naoko from halfway across the world.

Contrary to what anyone in her place would do, Ruth decides to pace her reading. So she does not read any faster than Naoko would have written.

This is a story-within-a-story kind of book. Ruth reading Nao's diary is the bigger story. Nao's diary, in turn, is like a collection of multiple stories in which Nao talks about the people in her life - her great grandmother Jiko, who is a Zen Buddhist nun; her great uncle Haruki #1, who was a kamikaze pilot in WW2; her father Haruki #2, who is depressed and suicidal after losing his job. Like I said, an assortment platter.

Let's talk about Nao first. For me, Naoko Yasutani was the pivot that held this book in place. And this is a book that really needs a pivot because Ozeki likes to meander, order and reason be damned. I could count on Nao to bring me back, to engage me again, to keep me turning the pages, because how could I rest not knowing what happened to this young girl who is so ruthlessly bullied by her peers?? Sure, Nao annoyed me sometimes. Doesn't change the fact that she is the first thing I will remember whenever anyone mentions this book.

Coming to Ruth. I realized quite late that the Ruth and Oliver in the story were based on Ozeki and her husband Oliver. Well, what can I say? I just hope they are not this profoundly boring in real life.

Every time the POV switched to Ruth, I had to suppress a groan. So dry, so monotonous, so dead. Oliver is like this walking encyclopedia or something. 90% of what he says has NOTHING to do with the story. Ocean gyres, garbage patches, quantum physics... that last chapter was eerily reminiscent of my high school Physics textbook.

I read this review that suggested Ruth's parts should have been cut out entirely. Not quite possible, since Ruth plays a very important role in the book. She is the reader and Nao's story would have no meaning without a reader. But I still think a lot of things could have been edited out.

The book takes a mystical turn in the last quarter. Nao's seemingly ordinary diary turns out to be not so ordinary after all. Ozeki plays with the notion of time, letting the past and the present collide, blurring the lines between reality and illusion. Like I said, I did not understand the whole thing. In fact, I don't think I'm supposed to understand the whole thing.

Irrespective of my rating, A Tale for the Time Being is the kind of book I will remember. It is not perfect, it is not seamless, but it is not unmemorable either. This book just missed out on 4-star-amazing for me and that is mainly my own fault, I think. I did not pay attention when I should have paid attention because this book was not what I was led to believe it was.

Well, I'm still glad I read it.

Now to wait and watch what the Booker committee decides.


And it's Eleanor Catton - youngest Booker recipient ever - for The Luminaries - the heftiest book in the shortlist this year. Congratulations! :D
Profile Image for Debbie.
455 reviews2,899 followers
June 9, 2015
3.5 stars

Sitting here at the bistro with my best friends, and we all order the same exotic dish. They're licking their chops and raving about it. I’m liking it okay, but I get a few bursts of flavor that make me scrunch up my face. Sure, the sauce is great, but it's taking me forever to chew this meat. I'm so busy trying to digest it, I really can't even talk yet. This is an award-winning dish by a grand chef. What is WRONG with me? How come my friends don’t have to chew so much? Isn't the meat on their plates as tough? I keep chomping away, but I feel weird and embarrassed that I’m odd-person out. I just hate not being able to share the glee, but really, I don’t want the recipe. And I’m not hot to tell my friends that the meal didn’t do me like it did them.

Like the meal, this book has a whole lot of good. It starts with the proclamation that we’re all time beings. It got an A for cool factor right there.

This is a strange and at first totally enchanting read. Nao is a Japanese teenager living in Tokyo, transplanted from Silicon Valley. She has written a diary that washes up on the shores of Canada. Her story is unusual and inventive. A writer, Ruth, living in the woods with her husband, finds the diary and sets about trying to figure out what happened to Nao. The story alternates between the two worlds, and it's clever how the stories intersect. Lots of topics are touched upon--suicide, bullying, 9/11, Zen Buddhism, and Japanese soldiers in WW2.

Nao's voice is just plain cool. I sort of wish the whole book had been her journal; Ruth's story just wasn't as interesting and I kept wanting to get back to Nao. Nao's comments about the oddness and beauty and interconnectivity of time are playful and profound. And some stuff is cool beyond words. There’s a great communal bath scene in a Zen monastery that I’ll remember for a long while. And Nao’s great-grandmother, a wise old Zen Buddhist nun, tells Nao to find her superpower and use it. It made me think, what is my superpower? Ozeki made me think of things I've never thought about before, and that was luscious.

I had never tasted such an unusual dish, but why did she put such a big heap on my plate, and why was the meat so tough in places?

One piece I couldn’t digest was the science lecture. At the end of the book, the author suddenly decided to teach us dimwits about the beauty of quantum physics. If you’re not into it, you’re just not into it. Reading fiction, I’m looking for a rich plot, and I resent the intrusion of a science class. She even has appendices that provide even more information on quantum physics—really strange and unwanted in a book that should have only fiction between its covers.

Another bite I choked on was the magical realism. I’m reading along thinking this was a realistic story, when I suddenly run into magic. Ruth notices that words in Nao’s journal had mysteriously disappeared. Huh? There were other magical elements, and they all ruined it for me.

Okay, one more bite that was unpleasant: a really long dream. I hate dreams in novels almost as much as I hate magical realism. Dreams are supposed to be all symbolic and cool, but I just think of them as boring and distracting interruptions.

And blech! I do not like the taste of footnotes! There are more than 150 (!) of them. I hated having to exit the story to read a footnote. Yes, I realize I could have just ignored them, but my nosy self convinced my reading self that leaving the page to chase a footnote was the right thing to do. Because what if they were whispers that I needed to hear? Some of the footnotes were just more info, but many were Japanese phrases. I'm guessing the author did this for authenticity, but I would have much preferred she use the English translation so that I didn't have to leave the page. It was especially a pain with the Kindle because I had to click and go to a new page to see the footnote, and sometimes I’d space out and miss the Back button, sending me to god knows where in the book. I’d have to find my way back, meanwhile losing the reading momentum and getting more and more annoyed.

The middle and the very end dragged on and on for me. The book needed a good edit. Too much food on the plate! Too many descriptions of nature, too much quantum physics. Add on the dreams and the side trips into fantasyland, and I was ready for the book to be over.

I drove myself crazy going back and forth between giving this book a 4 or a 3, but I ultimately ended up measuring it by whether I wanted to pick it back up every day (not usually), whether I kept looking to see how far I had gotten (yep), and whether I thought about what should have been edited out (totally). This all led me to the Road of 3. But…but…but….there is a whole lot of really really great stuff in this book.

No, I probably won’t buy this dish again, but I’m not the least bit sorry I tried it.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
February 16, 2021
reading this was such an up and down experience for me, which really makes me sad. there were moments i was really into this, but then there were times when i just wanted to quit altogether.

the parts that are good are really good, like 4-5 stars worthy. i loved the look at japanese culture, i appreciated how light is shed on difficult topics such as war and mental health, the themes have depth throughout, and the narrative structure in engaging.

but the parts that are bad completely ruin the story. how nao treats her parents is both shameful and hypocritical, the present day ruth/oliver chapters are the most boring things ever (why RO decided to base these characters on herself and her husband is… a choice), and the complete switch to magical realism 85% into the story is jarring and unnecessary.

i do think there are a lot of good intentions with this story, but i would have been more receptive to them had it not gotten dragged down by poor characterisation and odd writing choices.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,677 followers
September 2, 2015

Rare is the book which I have simultaneously loved and hated. Rare is the book which has deftly pried open the shell of visible reality to expose the pliant flesh of the human condition with such loving care yet disappointingly sacrificed narrative integrity to manipulate the reader's emotions in the end.

The Nao-narrated portion of the novel appears too served up to be believable. A beautifully decorated obento offered to the smug Western reader who sees Japan as a collage of stereotypes - ijime, hikikomori, jisatsu, French maid cafes, enjo kosai, host clubs, bishounen, zazen, juvenile delinquency, the endemic hatred for gaijin, kamikaze pilots and so on and so forth.

What disappointed me most was Ozeki's unabashed pandering to the Western reader and reducing Nao's life to the melodramatic plot from a campy J-dorama. Not only is she hated and bullied brutally in school for appearing more American than Japanese, but she also has a hikikomori suicidal father who refuses to go find work and lurks on forums looking for suicide buddies. Friendless and lonely, she even dabbles in 'compensated dating' with hentai oji sans. And despite contending with such a misery magnet of a life, Nao's voice manages to muster a sardonic indifference which I found extremely hard to believe at times. The only missing pieces in this perfect parade of cliches are a couple of yakuza members with permed hairstyles and tattooed forearms or loan sharks terrorizing the Yasutani family.

One of the reasons I rated Midnight's Children so highly was because Rushdie never dumbed down India or its distinct sociopolitical features for the sake of winning easy approval of the random European/American reader. In fact, he parodied the whole Western misconception about 'snake-charmers' being a defining motif of Indian cultural traditions without ever alienating his readerbase. As a diasporic author, Ozeki failed a similar test of authenticity in my eyes.

Even the more sublime and endearing bits featuring Jiko, the hundred and four years old Zen Buddhist nun and former anarcho-feminist-novelist, who gives Nao her 'supapawa' to grapple with the cruelties of everyday life, fail to cancel out the annoyance of the cliche plot points.

And the last stretch botched it completely. The quantum mechanics and magical realist bits came out of nowhere and clashed with the stark realism of the earlier parts of the novel. I do not mind a plot straying into the domain of absurdity for the sake of enforcing some token symbolism (the significance of the writer-reader bond in this case), but there has to be some kind of cohesion between the disparate worlds of reality and far-fetched possibility which this novel unfortunately lacked. Also I've watched enough Fringe episodes to remain unaffected by the theories of alternate reality.

Small failings aside, this is an extremely important work which probes the underlying logic (or lack thereof) of wars and xenophobia, factors in the deep and abiding importance of the natural world in an era of rabid climate change, preaches compassion and tolerance towards even those worthy of contempt, and advocates living life for the time being regardless of the woes that may make it difficult to bear. But to rate this any higher would be to go against my beliefs of what a good book should be able to achieve without resorting to gimmickry.
Profile Image for Pam.
1,028 reviews
March 13, 2013
Warning - everyone else in this world loves this book. It is the story of a teenager, Nao, in Toyko who decides to pour her soul into a diary that washes ashore in Canada into the hands of an author. The author becomes obsessed with Nao who tells the story (actually not really) of her great grandmother, a Buddhist Nun.
There are a ton of themes including East vs. West, search for home and roots, meaning of time, quantum physics, and search for peace and acceptance. Basically it is a metaphysical novel.

Called "brilliantly beguiling," I was expecting more actually a lot more. The alternating chapters with its points of view and telling the story both backwards and forwards is a construction I find over used and no longer clever. I also found no need for Nao's life to be so disturbingly horrific and honestly can't believe that the adults in her life couldn't/wouldn't step in to help her. Her 104 year old great grandmother (fragile in body) was the most capable adult around - really? Honestly the author evoked irritation and then just pissed me off. Reading the book did remind me that I like my books as Aristotle liked his theater: "true to life and yet more beautiful." I did not find all this cruelty to be beautiful. Ozeki did create haunting characters and I will remember the basic storyline. As I said, I am the only one who isn't enraptured by this book.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books518 followers
August 5, 2023
The Murakami vibes are strong with this one.

Like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Ruth Ozeki's novel is an engaging masterpiece that combines personal narrative with philosophy about the meaning of life and death and the cruelty that humans inflict on each other (with WWII as an extreme example).

There is also a magical realism element, which is, perhaps, explained through a connection to quantum uncertainty or the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. As in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, there is even a cat who runs away as a result of family strife. A Tale for the Time Being also shares Murakami's love of Proust's In Search of Lost Time (as in 1Q84).

The prose is vibrant throughout A Tale for the Time Being, especially in the sections narrated by Nao. At times heartbreaking and at times hilarious, Nao will grab your attention from the first page.

For the alternating perspective, Ruth Ozeki creates a fictionalized version of herself and her husband, Oliver, who find Nao's diary washed up ashore their British Columbian island. Time and space are eventually smeared in the growing connection that Ruth forms with Nao.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and give it a 5-star rating. Fans of Haruki Murakami will especially enjoy this book.

The Future is Nao!
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,545 followers
January 25, 2019
This was the first book I listened through Playster* and it was a good choice. While I gave the book 3*, the audio was very well done. It is narrated by the author and she does a wonderful job.

One of my plans for this year is to read more from the books I added to my TBR at the beggining and this one was among the first, on my shelves from Jan 2014. One of those books I really wanted to read but never got to do it.

A tale for the Time Being is not an easy book to digest. It covers difficult themes such as suicide, allianatiobs from the world, depression etc. It also covers Zen philosophical ideas and quantum physics which at some point are too much. I blame my rating on my mood while reading. I recently became a mother and I guess it is not the right moment to read about young girls trying to kill themselves.

* Playster opinion: It is a way cheaper version of Audible. You only pay a fee/month and you can listen to an unlimited number of books. The content and price is regional. I am pleased of the titles available and I am planning to use it in the future regurarly. The app has quite a few bugs but it works better than previously.
Profile Image for Laysee.
519 reviews250 followers
May 8, 2019
‘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.’ - Ruth Ozeki, A Tale For The Time Being

A Tale For The Time Being is a deceptively simple title. I took it at face value and considered that I would be entertained by a story just for now, perhaps for a little while. As it turned out, the title has a totally different meaning. This tale is an unusual ‘message in a bottle’ type of story that reaches magically across time to connect individuals whose lives would otherwise never touch. American-Canadian author, Ruth Ozeki, I learned, is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest of Japanese ancestry. Her cultural and religious background lends this story an enigmatic flavor as the concept of the ‘time being’ unfolds.

It appears that Ozeki has written herself and her husband, Oliver, into this story, as half the story is narrated by a couple, similarly named Ruth (also a novelist) and Oliver (an environmental conservationist), living on a small remote island in the middle of Desolation Sound. One day, while walking on a beach in the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada, Ruth stumbles on a diary in a barnacle-encrusted freezer bag. The other half of the story is narrated by a troubled 16-year-old school girl, Nao (Yasutani Naoko), author of the diary. The diary has washed up on the shores of Canada in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary, she becomes increasingly alarmed at her resolve to end her life. Like Ruth, I needed to know if Nao will live.

Nao’s diary entries, initially benign and even hilarious, become dark and disturbing. Ozeki does a fabulous job capturing the colloquial language and girlish humor of an adolescent girl who is both physically and emotionally displaced. Nao aside, the reader gets to know quite intimately members of her family, remarkable and admirable characters whose dreams and ambitions are shattered by Japan’s involvement in WW2. There is Old Jiko (age 104), Nao’s great-grandmother, a Zen Buddhist nun, who teaches Nao how to draw on her innate superpower amidst the vicious bullying she faces in school. There is the memory of Nao’s Great-Uncle Haruki #1, a kamikaze pilot who perished in WW2, but whom I respect for redefining heroism. There is Nao’s father, Haruki #2, a bright computer scientist who lost his will to live when he lost his job in the Silicon Valley, sadly in order not to lose his humanity.

A Tale For The Time Being explores important issues surrounding the responsibility of science and technology in its relentless march toward improving the human lot, the danger when it becomes a pawn in the hands of the powers-that-be to wreak havoc for selfish ends. Haruki #1 contemplates the choices he needs to make as a kamikaze pilot: ‘In the end, then, what volition will arise in me? Will I bravely hold my plane’s course steady, knowing that at the moment of contact my body will explode in a ball of flames and kill so many of my so-called enemy, whom I have never met and whom I cannot hate.’

The more dominant theme, however, is time and its intractability. I suspect Nao’s name invites us to consider the sanctity of each moment as in ‘now.’ In her diary, we cannot help but wonder how moments and lives vanish (literally wiped out in an instant by a tsunami). Nao wants to leave behind a memoir of Old Jiko’s life but finds this a struggle; Ruth, too, wants to write her own memoir but is battling a writer’s block. Both Nao and Ruth grapple with these questions: ‘Where did the past go?’, ‘How to write about the past?’ The past has lessons to teach us. In Fukushima, there was a sign that said ‘Do not build your homes below this point.’ If only this warning was properly heeded. ‘They’re the voices of our ancestors...They were speaking to us across time, but we didn’t listen.’

The novel itself is cleverly time-layered. Nao’s past meets Ruth’s present but Ruth also reaches into Nao’s past. In Nao’s own words, ‘I am reaching through time to touch you... you’re reaching back to touch me.’ The permeability of time is beautifully captured in a surreal way.

A Tale For The Time Being is culturally fascinating. We are introduced to Obon, a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one's ancestors. Nao’s summer visit to Old Jiko in the mountains allows her to participate in the Osegaka ceremony for hungry ghosts and there she meets the ghost of her great-Uncle Haruki. There is Zen philosophy embedded within these pages where Old Jiko shares the value of seated meditation or Zazen. I learned and am still reeling from the idea that ‘In Japan, suicide was primarily an aesthetic, not a moral, act, triggered by a sense of honor, or shame.’

Written in 2013, A Tale For The Time Being was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was awarded the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and named the first recipient of the 2015 Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award for the Best Foreign Novel of the 21st century.

Read A Tale For The Time Being. It is a mesmerizing tale that promises to be memorable for a long time and not just for the time being.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
September 13, 2019
“Am I crazy?" she asked. "I feel like I am sometimes."
"Maybe," he said, rubbing her forehead. "But don't worry about it. 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.”

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being begins with an awkward plea from 16-year-old Nao simply to be heard. To make a single connection with another human being. Living in Tokyo, Nao writes both about her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, and her own intense loneliness. After traveling across the Pacific and washing up on a beach in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, Nao’s journal is found by a Canadian author named Ruth. This unlikely reader is pulled into Nao’s past in ways that challenge the physics of time and space (and provide a connection to the writer of the journal who penned her words years earlier).

“Life is fleeting. Don't waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!”

The novel is not super long, but it somehow seemed longer than it needed to be. I also thought there was some confusion about where Nao did her writing. For some, that might not be an issue, but it bothered me a bit. Despite a couple of criticisms, A Tale for the Time Being was an inventive and engaging read which I really enjoyed. 4.5 stars.

Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,269 followers
January 17, 2022
Snowing Cat GIF - Snowing Snow Cat GIFs

I think I've got snow in my brain because as much as I enjoyed reading this book, I've been struggling for the last fifteen minutes to write something about it. 

I give up and will just say it's a beautiful novel, surreal and philosophical and fun. It's about young Nao who is writing a diary about her life and the woman who finds this diary several years later. 

It is deep even as it's whimsical. At times it's light reading and at others.... well, it's rather dark at times and is extremely triggering. I think this is a book best avoided when you're depressed. 

Then again, who isn't depressed these days? So, maybe go ahead and read it anyway because I don't see the world getting any better any time soon.

4.5 stars rounded up..... and now it's back to the window to watch the snow fall. 

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Profile Image for Aaron T..
4 reviews1 follower
May 30, 2013
What a mess. I mean, a mess. There's so much excessive writing here, I was astounded at the sheer lack of editing and pruning--which this read needs a lot of.

That was the first that annoyed me. Details that are so stupid and repetitive, meaningless fodder that is in the way of getting on with a story.

I was astounded at how there was no real story here. A lot of good writing, albeit excessive, that goes nowhere.

A good 200 pages could have been excised, and maybe there would be
something worth reading.

Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
940 reviews14k followers
January 9, 2016
4.5 stars

Really interesting plot, compelling writing, and this book really made me think. I love how it has actual nuggets of information, so I actually learned things from this book, both about science and Japanese culture/Buddhism. I would recommend this one, but trigger warning for suicide and bullying.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,539 followers
June 29, 2016
Wonderful tale of a woman writer in a remote coastal village in British Columbia, Ruth, whose writer’s block gets extended when she starts reading the journals of a Japanese girl, Nao, which washes up on the shore in a waterproof box. Ruth becomes totally attuned to Nao’s vivid writing about her life in Tokyo after a childhood in Silicon Valley, her resilience in the face of extreme bullying at school, her concerns for her unemployed and suicidally depressed father, and her enchantment with her great grandmother, Jiko, who is nun at a Zen monastery. Ruth paces her reading to match that of its writing and devotes her other time to internet searching for clues to the identity of the girl in hopes of finding out if she is alive. She and her husband speculate whether Nao was a victim of the tsunami associated with the earthquake that damaged the Fukushima reactor back in 2012, somehow finding time to save her journal.

Two other items in the box provide clues, a special watch and a packet of letters in French that she needs outside help to get translated. The identity of Jiko is another puzzle to pursue through Nao’s revelation that she was a radical feminist poet in Japan’s brief history as a democratic republic back in the 1920’s. What Ruth eventually learns (I ain’t telling) are secrets that even Nao didn’t know about her family. Knowledge that could have changed the dangerous directions Nao is pursuing (was pursuing) in her life recounted in the journal (I ain’t telling). Ruth‘s obsession leads her to the illusion of communicating an important message across time in a dream. Other occasions of apparent magic realism are played out against the alternative that Ruth may be getting Alzheimer’s like her mother had (which keeps me from tagging the book as clearly fantasy or science fiction). Ruth ponders:
Who had conjured whom? Was she the dream? Was Nao the one writing her into being.

I delighted in all the characters in the book. That’s where the true life of the novel resides, but the stage set by all the ideas about eddies of time, information and decay, and the boundaries between life and death add to the potency of their performance. The novel has a lot of mind-bending in the vein of Murikami and David Mitchell. Perhaps in homage to the former there is a disappearing cat. In this case the cat gives us an opportunity to toy with the solution to the Schroedinger’s Cat paradox that calls for perpetual splitting of reality into parallel universes. Nao herself is the epitome of “Now” as she imbibes the Zen wisdom of her ancient and beloved Jiko. For her a wave in water is equivalent to the wave of a mountain (“the same, but different”). Nao puts her journal in a cover binding of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” Ruth’s husband addresses global warming by growing a forest of ancient trees of species from the NeoEocene epoch. Somehow all these elements make for something delicious.

This book was so much fun for me, so pregnant with possibilities. I had the illusion that the meaning of our existence was at stake as the tale unfolded. The ominous vast gyre of plastic trash in the ocean, such an awful artifact of our civilization, miraculously delivered Nao’s story to Ruth. Nao’s present is past for Ruth but present in her uncertainty about Nao’s death. As Ruth digs into images of the tsunami on the Internet, she discovers a photo of a six hundred stone tablet above the high water mark inscribed with a warning that translates, “Do not built below here.” She realizes our ancestors “were speaking to us across time, but we didn’t listen.” She makes some fascinating analogies after pulling random video clips of the disaster off the Internet:

Does the half-life of information correlate with the decay of our attention? Is the Internet a kind of temporal gyre, sucking up stories, like geodrift, into its orbit? What is its gyre memory? …The tidal wave, observed, collapses into tiny particles, each one containing a story. … a mobile phone ringing deep inside a mountain of sludge and debris …a medical worker clad in full radiation hazmat wanding a bare-faced baby squirming in his mother’s arms.

It’s hard to truly account for the pleasures I found in this weird and alluring story. About a fourth of my Goodreads friends who read this were not so enamored (3 or fewer stars). The sparkle of ideas were just flashes; the warp of reality was just leg-pulling contrivance; the sizzle of characters cartoony, etc. So your mileage may vary. For me I am already weighing prospects of her two other novels which already sit murmuring on my shelves, “Pick me, pick me!”

Profile Image for Britta Böhler.
Author 8 books1,911 followers
January 27, 2023
I am normally not a big fan of magical realism, but give me a story, beautifully written, a bit weird and with some quantum mechanical/zen buddhist magic thrown in and I am game.!

After the re-read: 4.5*

Second re-read in 2023: still 4.5*. This time I enjoyed the part with 'Ruth' so much more than before.
Profile Image for Emily Coffee and Commentary.
471 reviews156 followers
July 10, 2023

Incredibly poignant and tender. This story exists in the past, present, and future; we see both the brutality and the beauty of what it means to exist in this world, the precious fluidity of time and memory. Narrator Nao is incredibly endearing, raw, and real, a representation of the loss of innocence, the power of imagination, and the wondrous strength to keep walking along the path of life, weathering the many storms it hurls in order to see the rainbows that result. I felt an intense emotional connection to this book and it’s ideals. It is thought provoking, haunting, and gratifying, highlighting the best and worst of people, and the brilliant souls that find each other in the dark.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
October 21, 2017
What a fascinating novel this was! I enjoyed the alternate timelines and the two female narrators, Nao and Ruth. Nao is in Japan and is writing in her journal, and Ruth later finds the journal and reads it, without knowing what happened to Nao. It's an intriguing and emotional story, and it made for a good book club discussion. Recommended!

Favorite Quotes
"Life is fleeting. Don't waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!"

"Print is predictable and impersonal, conveying information in a mechanical transaction with the reader’s eye. Handwriting, by contrast, resists the eye, reveals its meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin."

"That's what it feels like when I write, like I have this beautiful world in my head, but when I try to remember it in order to write it down, I change it, and I can't ever get it back."

"Do all kids have to worry about their parents’ mental health? The way society is set up, parents are supposed to be the grown-up ones and look after the kids, but a lot of times it’s the other way around."

"It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart."

"Both life and death manifest in every moment of existence. Our human body appears and disappears moment by moment, without cease, and this ceaseless arising and passing away is what we experience as time and being. They are not separate. They are one thing, and in even a fraction of a second, we have the opportunity to choose, and to turn the course of our action either toward the attainment of truth or away from it. Each instant is utterly critical to the whole world."

"An unfinished book. left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will and ruthless determination to tame it again."
Profile Image for Wan.
14 reviews4 followers
July 24, 2014
Here are a few trigger warning topics to be aware of in this book (stop reading if you don't want to know):

-Attempted Rape
-Child Prostitution

Yes, all of that crammed into 432 pages. Here's the thing- I don't mind reading about characters going through abuse. It exists and we shouldn't ignore it. But when there's no plot advancing and it's just chapter after chapter about someone getting abused? It gets taxing. It's as if the author went, Hmm how am I going to torture Nao today?

Some problematic things that bugged me:

-Every young female mentioned (from the main character's pov) has it out for her. They're either scheming and finding ways to humiliate her or they're all vapid. I mean if that isn't one of the the biggest YA tropes I don't know what is.

-The hazing scenes were so extreme that I find it hard to believe that no adult would have stepped in. Especially when things happened on school grounds and in classrooms. Sure a lot of things go unreported but the fact that these terrible things were posted on the internet for all to see, *someone* would have reported it. What's even worse is that Nao bullies someone herself yet that gets brushed over.

Other things that bugged me:

-Schrödinger's cat. Can books stop mentioning this, please?

-The pretentious questions about time. I much prefer it when the reader gets to make up their own questions instead of having it presented to them so blatantly.

-If the island were a character, it would be more developed than Ruth- the other character in this book. I felt like I was reading an almanac and not an actual story. I kept waiting for Ruth to be developed but it never happened.

After finishing, did I care if Nao lived or died? Nope.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,081 reviews620 followers
July 21, 2018
A plastic bag washes up on a beach, it contains a Hello Kitty lunchbox and inside are some letters, a diary and a watch. The beach is on an island off the coast of British Columbia and the bag is found by Ruth, a local writer (it’s funny how so many novels feature writers). Ruth discovers that the diary is written by a girl named Nao and it tells the story of her life in America and then in Japan. It’s a somewhat harrowing tale. In California, Nao’s father was, for a while, a Silicon Valley hotshot, but things went wrong and the family moved back to their native Japan. Life continued to go downhill from this point.

Did the appearance of the bag on the beach somehow link to the tsunami that had hit the Japanese coast some months before? Had these items been washed onto the beach as a result of tidal flows? As Ruth talks to neighbours about her discovery and seeks answers to these questions, she also enlists their help to translate of some of the material she’s found. In time, we start to see the story of Nao and her family unfold. We also discover that Ruth is, herself, a Japanese-American. Married to Oliver – an artist and a naturalist – she is still adapting to life in this remote and quiet place after having previously lived in Manhattan. And there are other key characters in this narrative: Nao’s great grandmother, Old Jiko, and Haruki #1, a kamikaze pilot who, it transpires, was the original owner of the watch. In fact, as I worked my way through this book I began to find the stories of this pair ever more enticing – more so than those of Nao and Ruth, in fact.

It’s fairly slow going from the start, and never really speeds up. This is really a book to provoke contemplation and introspection. Whilst there is an ongoing tension regarding what will eventually come to pass regarding Nao and her family, much of the focus is on Ruth and Oliver. There are some pretty deep scientific discussions on subjects involving ecology, geology, meteorology, marine biology and (rather strangely) quantum mechanics. Whilst the wider story picks up themes such as Japanese culture, suicide, superstition, ghosts and the supernatural. Yes, there’s a lot going on here.

Ultimately, it is a satisfying story. Loose ends are tied off pretty well without the whole thing coming to a predictable and too neatly played out conclusion. The tensions between the various players is well conceived and executed and, though I found it hard to warm to Ruth, the tale of Haruki #1, in particular, will live long in the memory.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,178 reviews532 followers
December 7, 2017
This is a complex book, combining autobiography with fantasy, history and fiction.

Ruth Ozeki is the protagonist and the tale starts where she finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox which contained a faded-red English diary, a bundle of handwritten Japanese letters and a wrist watch of a sixteen year old girl in a plastic bag on Jap Ranch beach in the Desolation Sound near British Columbia.

Actually, the cover of the book was that of À La Cherche Du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust. To Ruth's utter shock and surprise, the famous author's own words got slipped to the ground somewhere earlier, like a pile of dead ants, and was replaced by a teenage girl's own words written in a purple gel ink pen, when Ruth opened it. Proust's tarnished gilt title, still visibly embossed on the cover took on new life...and in the absence of the actual content of his writings, new meaning.

Hi, she read. My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is?...

Oliver, Ruth's husband, understood the meaning of the time captured in the planetary gyres of the universe. Two of them flow directly towards British Columbia from Japan and diverge just off the BC coastline.
"Each gyre orbits at its own speed,” he continued. “And the length of an orbit is called a tone. Isn’t that beautiful? Like the music of the spheres. The longest orbital period is thirteen years, which establishes the fundamental tone. The Turtle Gyre has a half tone of six and a half years. The Aleut Gyre, a quarter tone of three. The flotsam that rides the gyres is called drift. Drift that stays in the orbit of the gyre is considered to be part of the gyre memory. The rate of escape from the gyre determines the half-life of drift . . .”

He picked up the Hello Kitty lunchbox and turned it over in his hands. “All that stuff from people’s homes in Japan that the tsunami swept out to sea? They’ve been tracking it and predicting it will wash up on our coastline. I think it’s just happening sooner than anyone expected.”
The author of the new story inside Marcel Prost's In Search of Lost Time's cover, was Naoko Yusatan, or just Nao, a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl who used to live in the USA but had to return with her parents to Japan after the Dot-Com bust. It left her dad somewhat suicidal, but don't worry, this honorable ambition is fully explained in the book.

Yao, the Japanese teenager, had a problem when she opened the shell of Marcel Proust's revamped philosophical masterpiece the first time. She skipped school that day, like many other days, and was sipping a Blue Mountain coffee in Fifi's Lovely Apron, a maid café in Akiba, after buying the book in a handicraft boutique in Harajuku. For several days already, the ghost of Proust was preventing her from writing girly stuff in his once revered book. The book was now filled with creamy blank pages on which a new story could begin. She needed to tell her story of physical abuse and bullying at her new school, but could not find the words. The blank pages invited her to write, as an escape from it all. She want to begin a new exploration of time. Times lost and found. How do you waste time? Can you lose time and then find it again? She waited and waited, but HER words did not come. A philosophical dilemma.
Weird, right? I mean, there I was, sitting in a French maid café in Akiba, thinking about lost time, and old Marcel Proust was sitting in France a hundred years ago, writing a whole book about the exact same subject. So maybe his ghost was lingering between the covers and hacking into my mind, or maybe it was just a crazy coincidence, but either way, how cool is that? I think coincidences are cool, even if they don’t mean anything, and who knows? Maybe they do! I’m not saying everything happens for a reason. It was more just that it felt as if me and old Marcel were on the same wavelength.
Eventually she figured out that she had to write something important for her words to come. Like, the life story of her great-grandmother: Yasutani Jiko, the famous anarchist-feminist-novelist-turned-Buddhist-nun of the Taisho era, who lives in remote mountains and don't have time to die, because she had to pray for all the stuff Yao is telling her about in her letters. The Taishö Democracy was in interesting era for women. One hundred and four years old at the last count, Old Jika was a busy nun. She understood time.
The idea of the time being comes from a book called Shōbōgenzō that an ancient Zen master named Dōgen Zenji wrote about eight hundred years ago, which makes him even older than old Jiko or even Marcel Proust. Dōgen Zenji is one of Jiko’s favorite authors, and he’s lucky because his books are important and still kicking around. Unfortunately, everything Jiko wrote is out of print so I’ve actually never read her words, but she’s told me lots of stories, and I started to think about how words and stories are time beings, too, and that’s when the idea popped into my mind of using Marcel Proust’s important book to write down my old Jiko’s life.
Nao became the link between two time beings to meet after Old Jiko's story landed up as flotsam on the planetary gyres which would connect the history of Jiko, with the time span of Ruth in the small village of Whaletown on Desolation Island.

Can there be gyres of words? Does it have a tone? Somewhere through the currents of time, and by drifting through new strings of words, this tale reaches the reader - another time being waiting to connect. Only, the tales colliding in this book had each their own orbiting speed, and came from two very different directions. In the end each story released its time for the reader to form a new time being within a new tale where the letters aligned neatly in the new meaning and tone.

Perhaps there was no reason why Yao's drifting package, either as flotsam(the tragedy of the tsunami) or jetsam ( cry for help, and thus planned), would end up at the south end of the beach near Jap Ranch. It was one of the most beautiful places on the island and once belonged to a Japanese family, before they were interned during WWII. And perhaps it was incidental that Ruth, half Japanese herself, should find it, while a Jungle Crow, corvus japonensis, the Japanese crow, appeared in line of sight for Oliver. In a time when blogging was the in-thing, where millions of lonely people write their lonely blogs and don't have time to read each other's since they were too busy blogging, a flotsam package arrived which would talk to one person only. Real time. A real purpose.

But wait, throw in Schrödinger's cat; quantum mechanics; Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu - the incredibly long story with thousands of pages in different volumes, with the last one titled Le temps retrouvé, which means Time Regained; Dōgen's masterwork, Shōbōgenzō, or the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye; Pesto the cat; a tsunami; Zen Budhism; the events of 9/11; climate change; the rich ecosystems of Desolation Island providing a deeper dimension to the story; as well as the autobiographical journey of Ruth Ozaki in writing a novel after ten years of constant writer's block. The novel with herself in it, ended up being this one.

The title is derived from the English title of Chapter 11 of the Shōbōgenzō. From Wikipedia: ("Treasury of the True Dharma Eye") is the title most commonly used to refer to the collection of works written in Japanese by the 13th century Japanese Buddhist monk and founder of the Japanese Sōtō Zen school, Eihei Dōgen. Several other works exist with the same title (see above), and it is sometimes called the Kana Shōbōgenzō in order to differentiate it from those. The term shōbōgenzō can also more generally as a synonym for the Buddha Dharma as viewed from the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism.

Japanese culture, philosophical magic, two family stories. That's the plot. Information dumping lessened my enjoyment of the book. Overall it is an interesting read. The meandering into philosophical opinion and conclusions(lecturing), instead of a strong story ending - which already took place way earlier in the last few chapters, resulted in falling stars. Does a novel need a philosophical ending, instead of a denouement of the story?

Time itself is being, he wrote, and all being is time . . . In essence, everything in the entire universe is intimately linked with each other as moments in time, continuous and separate, says Dōgen in Shōbōgenzō.

A pine tree is time, Dōgen had written, and bamboo is time. Mountains are time. Oceans are time, he continued. Ruth Ozeki tried to explain it in this book - if you allow magic to intervene.

An interesting concept. Worth exploring. A good read. I thought this novel was an ambitious undertaking, but the author pulled it through, although Ruth's character came across as a means to an end, and that is to deliver a boring lecture on quantum physics. Yoa's story line was excellent. Perfect title.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews159k followers
November 15, 2017
Painful Honesty Time: I begged for this book based on the cover. A friend laid out a bunch of books on her bed and snapped a photo and I knew I had to borrow it the minute I saw it. It was like looking at a roll of LifeSavers perfectly welded together under the sun, but with art in every stripe.

It was also an excellent read. Imaginative, funny, soulful, creative. The novel switches between the perspectives of two characters: sixteen-year-old Nao and Ruth, a struggling novelist. Through both characters we see a struggle for identity and the different pressures of assimilation. As a WoC, it was an incredibly refreshing read.

And I want to eat the book, so, sorry Eliza.

–Mal Soto

from The Best Books We Read In June 2017: https://bookriot.com/2017/07/03/riot-...


A Tale for the Time Being patted me on the head and then tore my heart out through my throat. It’s got Hello Kitty lunchboxes and Zen Buddhist nuns. A chatty Japanese teenager in a Tokyo fetish cafe. A struggling novelist on a remote Pacific island. Magic and superpowers. Naoko Yasutani is 16 years old when she decides to write about her great grandmother’s life in a Buddhist temple. But when her diary floats across the ocean in a plastic bag and washes up on the British Columbia coastline, it’s discovered by a writer named Ruth who becomes obsessed with the mystery of Naoko’s life. What begins as a wacky and charming story soon dives off the cliff of the dark and difficult, with Big. Existential. Questions. about war, disaster, and suffering. I’m just a little bit mad that it kept me up with existential angst at night, but it’s still one of the best books I’ve read, ever. –Rachel Smalter Hall

From The Best Books We Read in January: http://bookriot.com/2015/02/02/riot-r...
Profile Image for Vonia.
611 reviews97 followers
August 21, 2021
I loved this books for so many different reasons.

The Japanese Culture, from their traditions to their philosophies on life to family values to folklore to deep familial traditions has always intrigued me. Psychology; a young suicidal girl's tenacity to tell the story of the grandmother she loves. Time, space, relativity with quantum physics. Buddhism philosophies to live life for the moment (Because, "... memories are time beings... for a while they are beautiful, and then they fade and die."). Without overwhelming the story, Ruth Ozeki somehow managed to incorporate all these things into A Tale For The Time Being. Then added some more unexpected bonuses.

Our dear narrator for most of the novel, serves as our guide to all of this. Naoako Yasutani. I love her personality. She reminds me of myself, actually. Fierce, persevering, despite the sad hand The Game Of Life has graced her with. "The way you write Ronin is 浪人 with the character for wave and the character for person, which is pretty much how I feel, like a little wave person, floating around on the stormy sea of life," she says. A suicidal father, being tortured at school, a mother whom is a little absent. She identifies her home as Sunnyvale, in Northern California, which is pretty damn close to where I was born & raised. Once relocated to Japan, she struggles to survive. Her comparisons to California, her discussions about technology, are all priceless. "I’m pretty healthy and I don’t mind the idea of dying, but I also don’t want to get mowed down by some freaky high school kid in a trench coat who’s high on Zoloft and has traded in his Xbox for a semiautomatic."

She goes by Nao for short, pronounced "now". Another aspect of this book that I love. Ozeki's tangents on linguistics. Nao, for example, likes to say "Nooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww" so as to not defeat the purpose of the word, because,“in the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It's already then.” She is later able to recreate this sound with a (Taiko) drum. “When you beat a drum, you create NOW, when silence becomes a sound so enormous and alive it feels like you’re breathing in the clouds and the sky, and your heart is the rain and the thunder. Jiko says that this is an example of the time being. Sound and no-sound. Thunder and silence.”

The book begins with Nao introducing herself to the other heroine of the story, Ruth, who finds her diary (hidden in Proust's Le Temps Retrouve, "In Search Of Lost Time") washed up on the shore. Along with the diary, protected by a Hello Kitty bento box is a watch that belongs to her courageous uncle Haruki Yasutani, forced to become a kamikaze pilot, as well as his secret diary, written in French.

“...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....

Maybe by now you're wondering about me, too.

You wonder about me.

I Wonder about you.

Who are you and what are you doing?”

... If you decide not to read anymore, hey, no problem, because you're not the one I was waiting for anyway. But if you decide to read on, then guess what? You're my kind of time being and together we'll make magic!”

From Proust,

"In reality, every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument, which he offers to the reader to permit him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. The reader’s recognition in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its truth."

Yet another linguistics tangent reveals the truth in this, in the very autobiographical nature of many works by writers. Ruth is an academic, a writer working on her memoir. She has been working on it for years now, unable to find what she needs to continue. Ruth is married to Oliver, a somewhat autistic environmental scientist. The last member of the family is their cat Pesto, even though its full name is Schrodinger. They live in a remote island in Vancouver, Canada; Whaletown, to be precise. If any of this seems familiar, our author is named Ruth. Ruth Ozeki is also married to an Oliver. And is also Japanese, now identified Canadian. The name Ruth is actually paradoxical bilingual pun. It can mean, in Japanese, "roots", otherwise, "absence").

This is also a book about writers, then. Which led to a further intensified need to quotify (definition: to save, for future reference, the splenderifous sentences, lines, paragraphs, passages written in a most appreciated text in an effort to commemorate its illustriousness for eternity) this whole damn text, being not only a certified reader, but also an amateur writer.

“I find myself drawn to literature more now than in the past; not the individual works as much as the idea of literature—the heroic effort and nobility of our human desire to make beauty of our minds—which moves me to tears, and I have to brush them away, quickly, before anyone notices.”

The contrast between such loving, heart warming things and the dark topics covered by Ozeki still amazes me. Why amazes? because usually that causes an imbalance. But somehow, under Ozeki's guidance, it made the whole better than the sum of its parts. What dark side? To name a few of the main ones, child abuse, attempted rape, some serious bullying, depressions, suicide, prostitution, war, death, hate crimes, genocide....

“I believe it doesn't matter what it is, as long as you can find something concrete to keep you busy while you are living your meaningless life.”

“She missed the built environment of New York City. It was only in an urban landscape, amid straight lines and architecture, that she could situate herself in human time and history. She missed people. She missed human intrigue, drama and power struggles. She needed her own species, not to talk to, necessarily, but just to be among, as a bystander in a crowd or an anonymous witness.”

“A free man, that is to say, a man who lives according to the dictates of reason alone, is not led by fear of death, but directly desires the good, that is to say, desires to act, and to preserve his being in accordance with the principle of seeking his own profit. He thinks, therefore, of nothing less than death, and his wisdom is a meditation upon life.”

"As shame is not a pleasant feeling, and some Japanese politicians are always trying to change our children’s history textbooks so that these genocides and tortures are not taught to the next generation. By changing our history and our memory, they try to erase all our shame.”

"We were soldiers, but even before we were showed how to kill our enemies, they taught us how to kill ourselves.... At one point in my life, I learned how to think. I used to know how to feel. In war, these are lessons best forgotten."

"How much can you really trust the promise of a suicidal father?"

For Ozeki to have written so eloquently on such matters, yet allow the reader to turn the very last page with sadness that it is over ("She turned the final page.... There was no doubt about it. There were no more words and no more pages. Books end. Why was she surprised?"), but content with the overall heart warming ending, is quite the accomplishment.

Buddhism, Zen, Zazen meditation. Also never one for such philosophies before, Ozeki has gifted me the opportunity to be more open to the ideas.

Nao's grandmother, a Buddhist monk, her introduction to the Zen philosophies,as written by Zen master Dogen. Jiko Yasutani. Naokoa loves her. We can all see why.

"What was there to say? She knew I loved her. Sometimes you do not need words to say what is in your heart."

".... Something about not knowing being the most intimate way... Maybe it is true, even though I do not really like uncertainty. I would much rather know, but then again, not knowing leaves all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive."

Slowly she turned herself around, pivoting on her knees, until finally she was facing me. “I asked for you,” she said.
“For me?”
“So you could hear the answer.”

“She sat back on her heels and nodded. The thought experiment she proposed was certainly odd, but her point was simple. Everything in the universe was constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives. That’s what it means to be a time being, old Jiko told me... And just like that, you die.”

“Life is fleeting. Don't waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!”

One of my favorite, if not the favorite scene from the novel....

“‘Have you ever bullied a wave?’ Jiko asked me at the beach.

"There was no one around, except for a couple of surfers way down the beach. I took old Jiko’s stick in my hand and walked and then ran to the edge of the ocean, waving it above my head like a kendo sword. The waves were big, breaking on the beach, and I ran into the first one that came at me, yelling kiayaeeeee! like a samurai going into battle. I smacked the wave with the stick, cutting through it, but the water kept coming. I ran back up the beach and escaped, but the next one knocked me over. I got to my feet and attacked again and again, and each time the water crashed down on top of me, grinding me against the rocks and covering me with foam and sand. I didn't mind. The sharp cold felt good, and the violence of the waves felt powerful and real, and the bitterness of salt in my nose tasted harshly delicious... Over and over, I ran at the sea, beating it until I was so tired I could barely stand. And then the next time I fell down, I just lay there and let the waves wash over me...

"Maketa,” I said, throwing myself down in the sand. “I lost. The ocean won.”
She smiled. “Was it a good feeling?”
“Mm,” I said.
“That’s good,” she said. “Have another rice ball?""

"Surfer, wave, same thing."
"That's just stupid, " I said. " A surfer's a person. A wave is a wave. How can they be the same?"
Jiko looked out across the ocean to where the water met the sky. "A wave is born from deep conditions of the ocean. A person is born from deep conditions of the world. A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again. Up, down. Person, wave.

... We walked back to the bus stop together, holding hands again. I was still thinking about what she said about waves, and it made me sad because I knew that her little wave was not going to last and soon she would join the sea again, and even though I know you can't hold on to water , still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away."

“Together we'll make magic...
Who had conjured whom?
She seemed to remember Oliver suggesting this once before, but she hadn't really appreciated the importance of his question. Was she the dream? Was Nao the one writing her into being? Agency is a tricky business, Muriel had said. Ruth had always felt substantial enough, but maybe she wasn't. Maybe she was as absent as her name indicated , a homeless and ghostly composite of words that the girl had assembled. She'd never had any cause to doubt her senses. Her empirical experience of herself, seemed trustworthy enough, but now in the dark, at four in the morning, she wasn't so sure.”

Like all Japanese novels it seems, dreams play a part.

“What if I travel so far away in my dreams that I can't get back in time to wake up?”

Magical realism. Which I have always loved. Nao meets the ghost of her uncle during Obon, one of the most important Japanese traditions for over five hundred years. A festival that takes place over three days, they believe that their ancestors' spirits come back to their homes to be reunited with their family during this time.

Time travel is explored. In a magical, whimsical, fantastical, splendiferous way, but also scientifically. As in with quantum physics, time, space, relativity. Which has always been more physics than my social sciences mind could handle. Thank You, Ozeki, for explaining this to me in the context of an amazing novel, allowing my intrigue, and therefore motivation to understand, reach its utmost potential. With a most informative appendix A, B, C, D, E.... For what? To further investigate things such as Schrodinger's Cat, Quantum Mechanics (superposition (something being in two places @ once), entanglement (two things coordinating their properties across space & time), the measurement problem (also known as the observation bias, in which the mere act of measuring/observation alters what is being measured/observed)), Zen Master Dogen, Hug Everett (The man whom challenges the theory of wave collapse; his theory was that there any many worlds. Each time two possibilities are posited, the world splits. A schism occurs, branching into two worlds, then again, then again, into infinity. This "many worlds" theory exemplified his belief that everything and/or anything he could imagine would occur, otherwise already had. This is as opposed to The Copenhagen interpretation by Bohr & Heisenberg in which each time two possibilities are posited, they can be both, in two places at once (superposition). For example, Schrodinger's Cat would be simultaneously both alive & dead. Not alive in one world, dead in another.

Do I really understand this very well? Could I pursue some higher education in physics? Absolutely, positively not. But I understand much better. "Interstellar" might be better on the second viewing.

My favorite books of all time are the ones that transport you into another place, another time; almost another dimension. So that when you turn the last page, you warily blink, as if waking from a dream. "No, it cannot be over?" You wonder. And you realize you are back in the real world. This is exactly how it was with Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being. More so, by writing about it, researching things that piqued my interest while reading, I attempt to forestall the waking up from the world create by the author. But it is not really a choice. I feel the need to further pursue, to express the brimming thoughts. Whether or not someone out there reads it is irrelevant (“It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.”). Because my love for this novel transcends that. I will end with Nao's grandmother's final words, analyzed to have some deeper meaning, when really it was advice, wise advice, for Nao & her father.

“Live. For Now. For the time being.”
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews497 followers
January 5, 2014
this book is about suicide. it says so in the first couple of pages so i'm not giving anything away. i know a lot about suicide. i am not an anti-suicide person. if someone feels it's their time to go; if they feel the pain is too much; if they have suffered long and terribly and see no end in sight, i say, goodbye my friend. in my modest personal experience, these people, the people with so much damage in them they find life a terrible ordeal day after fucking day tend to die early-ish anyway. so many prolonged suicides. you all know what i'm talking about. amy winehouse, michael jackson.

ruth ozeki is not only a remarkable and brave writer, but also a buddhist priest. when writers manage to take buddhism and transform it into great story-telling, the result is breathtaking. i'm thinking about maxine hong kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace.

this book is also about time. it's about Time in the big sense of time and quantum theory and all the stuff that lies at the intersection of physics and new age, insofar as new age is a corruption of both physics and buddhism. this plays a small part in the book. but it's also about time in the sense of what we do with it, how we experience it, and how we tolerate it. in this sense, it's a great, great book to read during the holidays (which is when i read it) because the holidays are all about tolerating time.

also, and crucially for this reader, this is a kick ass story, told in alternating chapters by a japanese teenager who spent the first 15 years of her life in sunnyvale, california, and a japanese american writer (who goes by the name of ruth and resembles the author in just about every respect we are able to detect) who found the girl's diary and notes in a message-in-a-bottle set of hermetically sealed ziplock bags which may or may not have drifted all the way from fukushima as a consequence of the tsunami.

the voice of the teenager is fantastic and brave and occasionally hilarious. the third person narrative about the writer and her semi-happy semi-frustrating life on an island in british columbia is also delightful because so naked and authentic. zen priests (which, in truth, ruth-the-character isn't) are not immune to frustrations, bad moods, marital arguments, petty moments and, you'll be glad to hear, internet addiction.

ozeki interweaves a number of threads: the suicidal teenager and her ordeals, and the impatient writer and her ordeals (which trials weigh more? which are more legitimate?); naoko's great-grandmother the buddhist nun jiko, who's 104 and cleary knows how to live, and that other buddhist, ruth-the-character but also, always, ruth-the-author, who struggles with power outages, writer's block, a stubborn kitty cat, a loving but complex couple relation, and the hardships of living on an island in the pacific northwest while missing the vitality and mess of new york. who is more successful at living the buddhist life? the nun who left everything and lives in serene, accepting contentment or the struggling writer who is trying to change things with her work?

that way i read this book, there is no right, no simple way. old jiko, the role model, the saint, honors everyone's difficulties equally, and does not forget her own. this is, after all, a book about suicide, and time, which also means that it's a book about inevitable failing. you pick up the piece and carry on. if you can. for now. for the time being.


this review does so little justice to the impact this book had on me. i was moved to tears. i laughed with my entire body. i read as slowly as i could. i thought to myself, i want to meet ruth ozeki: will she want another friend? please god let her want me as a friend. i was immensely grateful that ruth's husband, oliver, suffers from a flu-like illness that disables him greatly and from which he gets better only after he and ruth move to the vastly under-civilized island in the pacific northwest. i also suffer from a flu-like illness. should i move to an under-civilized island where it rains 10 months of the year and one has to cut one's own wood, power one's own generator (regular storms fell power lines all the time, and the hydro can fly in only when the storm has passed), and walk to the post office to get one's mail? i don't want to. i wouldn't know how to survive. but: how will i get better? how are we all going to get better?

ruth deals with bills, sneaks in a nasty comment which she immediately regrets about her husband's poor contributions to the household finances (the word she uses is "loser:" ouch!). naoko is vindictive to her classmates and she and her mom are quite uncharitable towards naoko's dad, a hikikomori who longs for suicide. there is nastiness and short-temperedness. how will we all get better? how will we save the planet from self-destruction, from war, from terribly devastating tsunamis and even more devastating, because man-made, defective nuclear power plants? how can we reverse time to before 9/11 and the birth of the global war on terror? what are we to do about the gigantic garbage patches, the largest of which may be as big as the entire united states?

this book tackles all of this, which makes it a miracle of narrative restraint, condensation, and easy fluency. it reminded me a little of Maxine Hong Kingston, of course, but also of Milan Kundera, whom it explicitly names, and David Mitchell, whom it doesn't. how do these writers do it? how do they manage to put the grand entirety of the personal and collective misery of the world in a book about a japanese haulden caulfield who is bullied at school and a japanese american writer with writer's block?

so this is what i leave you with. thank whomever you thank when the world goes the right way for old jiko (fictional), ruth ozeki (nonfictional) and pope francis (also nonfictional), the latter of whom, like jiko, sees and knows the most abject misery (personal and collective) yet keeps reminding us to be joyful and hopeful, and models this joy and hope every day. you can, maybe, be joyful and hopeful even when things go terribly wrong, when you get hit in the teeth, when life bites into your heart like an animal trap with sharp, rusty teeth. you don't need to do anything. just live, for now, for the time being.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,360 reviews796 followers
June 17, 2016
If a train that travels 3 kilometers per minute goes y kilometers in x minutes, then…etc., my mind would go numb and all I could think about was how a body would look at the moment of impact, and the distance a head might be thrown on the tracks, and how far the blood would spatter.
Listen up. The world doesn't live on humanity.
Japan isn’t a great thing to be a free anything, because free just means all alone and out of it.
Listen up. The world doesn't give a fuck about you.
"To a writer, this is so funny. To send a word, instead of a body!
Listen up. The world runs on ciphers. The world runs on manipulating the data of inheritance and habitus into the machine of freedom, the end-all exchange of your life for your money, your morals for your bread, your peace for your survival. Heritage lives on in you in fear of the future, and the future is vast and pitiful, for everyone knows which heritages are worth most in the long run. Everyone learns early on that an income is only guaranteed by how quickly one may transcribe the weight of a human life into a point, the point into statistics, the statistics into a graph, ending with an overheard conversation of mine where one white male engineer told another white male engineer that he had it all wrong, the car wasn't screwed up just because three people died in accidents caused by the same flaw, you didn't need to pull back production and pay out the gains and suffer a loss for a paltry number of fatalities that didn't even amount to a standard deviation on the scale of sales over time. I should know, he said. I've been working for thirty years.
But later on, maybe days or months or even years later, the reality of what they’d done would start to rise up to the surface, and they would be twisted up with pain and anger and take it out on themselves and their families. That also would be my fault.
I quit bioengineering because I could do it. Understand? I quit bioengineering because my options were making a shitton of money at one company with military contracts or making a shitton of money at another company with a history of poisoning the environment or making a shitton of money at yet another powered by people preferring to amputate their selves through drugs in order to fit, to stay in, to save lives in order of those who could afford it rather than in an effort to give to those who need it. I quit bioengineering because it got to me, and I could go back if I medicated myself into a walking coma of math and pseudoethics and a rhetoric that never ever ever incorporated empathy in its millenias of history, but I won't. I won't, I won't, I won't.
"Now, who did you say we are at war with?”
Good question. At this very, very moment, this instant of time, this time of being, do you know whose time is ending? Here in the US, I certainly don't, not with the school to prison pipeline instate and the colonialism out, and with capitalism doing fine and dandy among the corporations and the drones and the taxes, I'd have a hell of a time finding out. If you look between the lines and past the whitewashing in schools from coast to coast, they'll teach you awareness of the fuel this democracy runs on, this country that grew physically through the genocide of one wealth of nations and financially through the enslavement of another, but they won't tell you what to do with it. They won't give you any sign that you are expected, as an adult, as a full fledged human being, as an upstanding member of society, to actively question this betrayal of freedom, of dignity, of the pursuit of happiness, which every fiber and action of your relative being. No. They see that you pay, they see that you receive your little paper, and they see that you leave with minimum fuss, for universities have a reputation and sales record to maintain, didn't you know, and anyone who falls between the cracks of attempted suicide, rape culture, and hate crimes just isn't good for press release.
Jiko looked out across the ocean to where the water met the sky. "A wave is born from deep conditions of the ocean," she said. "A person is born from deep conditions of the world. A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again. Up, down. Person, wave."
I found my function through literature. I did, I did, I did. I reconciled my need for economic support with my need for propagating social justice, my equation for living with my reason to be, my privileges that I have with the privileges that I don't, and I hold that it should be this way for everyone. However, I don't hold with the notion that everyone should do it my way. I don't hold with the term "slacktivism", for explicate to me, please, the exact parameters of your definition, the constitutional efficacy of your concept, the fucking point of poking those who operate through means other than marches on the capital in the eye, as if only certain breeds of solidarity were deemed valid in the eyes of the holier-than-thou. As if everyone were capable as you, social justice warrior, to take off work, to take off thinking, to take off living in the way they've found works best in order to fulfill your narrow notions of just what it means to be "effective" in the social arena. The ripples of the new generation operate on electromagnetic waves far less concrete and observable than your sit-in protests, and if even science can't observe and measure at the same time, how do you expect to?
Nothing made him happier than planting baby trees.
It is a matter of not hurting people.
Slowly she turned herself around, pivoting on her knees, until finally she was facing me. “I asked for you,” she said.
“For me?”
“So you could hear the answer.”
It is a matter of listening to people.
"No," he said. "I'm not dead yet.”
It is a matter of living. It is a matter of learning without expecting instantaneous results. It is a matter of time being and respecting that time being for any and all systems both human and ecological, animal and psychological. It is a matter of knowing the difference between being dead and being alive, for dead is dead is dead unless, of course, you've passed something along. You've programmed a tool for activists, you've written a book for thinkers and believers in peace, you've expressed an idea of war never being acceptable under any circumstance so long as the life of a single being has value to someone via speech, via post, via like. Do not tell me that certain efforts to advocate something that values well being over profit do not "count"; if a successful career in bioengineering can't tempt me into treating deaths as justifiable statistical error, neither can you.
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