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83 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and multi-layered
A package containing a diary washes up on the Canadian coast. It is found by Ruth, a writer who lives on Vancouver Island with her husband Oliver and their cat, Pesto (formerly known as Schrödinger). As she starts to read she uncovers the sad and lonely life of a Japanese schoolgirl, Nao. Does Nao exist beyond the pages of the diary and can Ruth find out who she...
Published 18 months ago by Curiosity Killed The Bookworm

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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ambitious but ultimately disappointing
Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist and her eco-artist partner Oliver live on Vancouver Island. They discover a package washed up on the shore that contains, among other artefacts, the diary of Nao, a young Japanese girl, written on the pages of an old copy of Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. A Tale For Time Being alternates between Nao's story and Ruth and...
Published 9 months ago by Rolo


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83 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and multi-layered, 9 Mar 2013
By 
Curiosity Killed The Bookworm (Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
A package containing a diary washes up on the Canadian coast. It is found by Ruth, a writer who lives on Vancouver Island with her husband Oliver and their cat, Pesto (formerly known as Schrödinger). As she starts to read she uncovers the sad and lonely life of a Japanese schoolgirl, Nao. Does Nao exist beyond the pages of the diary and can Ruth find out who she really was?

A Tale for the Time Being is a wonderful, wonderful book that felt oddly rewarding to read. Spanning continents and time, it weaves together Zen, quantum physics and French philosophy into multiple narratives of heartbreak and touching moments of joy.

If that sounds a bit too high brow, Nao's diary has a genuine teenage narrative voice (if you can accept for a moment that teenagers can write full sentences). She writes in English as she spent most of her childhood in California before the dot com bubble burst and her father lost his job. On their return to Tokyo, Nao is the victim of relentless bullying at school as she is the Transfer Student. Whilst she seems to take things in her stride, with a conversational tone and at times witty comments, she is clearly struggling with depression. On top of which, her father has not been the same since he returned to Japan and she hates him for it but he is just as lost as she is.

Nao's diary is not just about her, although her story is heartbreaking and at times shocking. She also tells us about her grandmother, Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun who claims to be 104 (perhaps the very definition of a time being) and her great-uncle who was a kamikaze pilot. The diary was also bound up with letters written in kanji and a small journal written in French, which Ruth must decipher. She also reveals some of the more unsavoury aspects of Japanese culture.

I loved how Ruth's narrative brought the experience of reading into the book. At one point she wonders if it is cheating to want to know more than is held within the pages. Should we just be happy with what the author has chosen to show us? I for one am always looking things up when I read, spurred on to research interesting aspects or to find out what's real and what's made up. So I completely get what Ruth was doing. Ruth and Oliver have an argument one night after they come away from the text with different conclusions; Oliver being positive and Ruth focusing on the negative. Both of them had made assumptions that were right and wrong and it highlights how we all get something different out of a book (there is a Proust quote to this affect). I think I was with Oliver more, hoping for something good to happen to poor Nao.

The title itself was enough for me to pick up this book, with its wonderful double meaning. Nao introduces herself as a time being; we are all time beings. We exist in time, it controls us and we experience it. Nao's name is pronounced "now", a fleeting moment that is then before you finished saying it. References to time are littered throughout the pages. The narratives also encompass a large time frame, from Oliver's interest in prehistoric botany, through key moments in recent history to the present of Ruth reading Nao's diary. Nao states that 9/11 was like a knife cutting through time, but I also think WWII and the tsunami, had the same effect and both of which are important factors in the characters' journeys.

You don't have to understand Zen or quantum physics or Proust to love this book. It might just make you want to read more about one or all of these subjects though. It has left my brain a swirl with thoughts and I could go on for ever about it...but it's only right that I allow you to discover it for yourself.

Review copy provided by publisher.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ambitious but ultimately disappointing, 24 Nov 2013
By 
Rolo "rolo211" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Tale for the Time Being (Hardcover)
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Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist and her eco-artist partner Oliver live on Vancouver Island. They discover a package washed up on the shore that contains, among other artefacts, the diary of Nao, a young Japanese girl, written on the pages of an old copy of Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. A Tale For Time Being alternates between Nao's story and Ruth and Oliver's. Nao is a lively but troubled girl who was schooled in America but returned to Japan, and her story reveals her struggles against bullying at school, her suicidal father, the lessons learnt with her ageing Zen Buddhist great-grandmother and the discovery of her family's past. Nao's story starts as a fairly light tale but becomes increasingly and surprisingly dark with scenes of abuse, torture and prostitution, the Kamikazi pilots of the second world war and the shadows cast by 9/11 and the tsunami of 2004.

To give more of the story away would be unfair to future readers, but the themes covered include ecology, religion, death, time, honour and quantum mechanics and the process of story-telling itself. It is an intriguing tale and one can't help being reminded of Murakami.
However, reading other reviews here, I seem to be in the minority when I say I found this story disappointing and the writing rather flat and dull. Ruth and Oliver never come alive and I had little sympathy for them - Oliver is a particularly irritating character and, for writing that aims to entrance, I found the descriptions of place and character very mundane. I had more engagement with Nao's story (particularly its insights into the peculiarities of Japanese culture) but her voice never rang quite true for me either. There is also some whimsical/mystical nonsense towards the end that was a turn-off for this reader, as were the token references to quantum mechanics (it's all too easy to drop in references to Schrödinger's cat to make your story seem a little more profound than it is).

If this review seems harsh, it is probably mostly down to personal taste. This is an intelligent book with a lot of ideas and most readers will engage with at least a few of them. For me, its ambition surpassed the author's ability and parts of it verged on the pretentious. But I know others have and will love it, so don't let me put you off.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and beautiful, 4 Mar 2013
By 
Alison M. G. Finch "Tig" (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The novel is wonderfully rich and a fantastically rewarding read. Ozeki presents a tale that folds in on itself, taking the reader into different cultures and times, painting pictures with words in a way that reminded me of a Miyazaki film. The story of Nao (now?) in Japan and Ruth in the Pacific North West echo in and out of each other, with ideas about ageing, and death, mourning, family life, karma, life in the difficult 21st century, creativity and the very odd place that is contemporary Japan. The relationship between Nao and her grandmother is particularly poignant and I loved the sections of the book that take place in the monastery - it gives such a contrasting picture of Japan from Nao's life in downntown Tokyo. It's a book I will return to, I am sure, because there is so much contained in it's pages. A truly remarkable novel and one that I am sure will still be read in decades to come. Ruth Ozeki is a true literary sensei.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious and Clever, 7 April 2013
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
A big thank you must go to Philip at my local bookshop, he had just read this at the time and due to his enthusiasm I bought a copy, otherwise this book would probably just have passed me by. Ruth Ozeki's novel is truly wonderful, it pulls you in and holds you as you work your way through it and become involved in the tale. I should point out that this is complex and takes in many subjects and emotions, but this adds to the fascinating story that you end up reading.

On the surface this is the tale of a woman, Ruth, living on a small island in Canada finding a bag washed up on shore containing books and a watch. The bag belongs to a Japanese schoolgirl, but how did it end up washed up on the island shore, and when was it written? One of the books is a handwritten journal in French for example, but the main journal is in Japanese, written by schoolgirl Nao. Nao is going to write about her 104 year old great gran, but of course she ends up writing more about herself and her family, especially her father. For a start, right there you are reading about the relationship between an author and a reader, something that happens each time we read a book. We read about Ruth's feelings as she reads and her wanting to know more, whilst we also read Nao's words, which gives us a massive insight into the Japan of today.

Into this story though big topics are incorporated, nature, our relationship with nature, technology, bullying, perversions, depression, suicide, science, culture and culture shock, philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and history, there are many other things. As you can see this book challenges you to a certain extent, but don't be put off. Skillfully written you find yourself inside the story, gripped by its power, and there are copious footnotes and some appendices if you do find yourself getting outside your comfort zone. Complex and challenging this is, but it is written in such a way that you don't feel like you are being patronised or the author is just showing off. A lot of care and thought has obviously gone into this and we can honestly say that Ruth Ozeki has herein created a masterpiece.

If you are looking for something mature and considered then this book is just right for you, and also it works on so many personal levels. I suffer with depression and so I found that this really spoke to me on that level, especially as I have overdosed in the past, and was bullied out of a job. It is because this has so many levels and covers so many things that this book really comes alive, making it a very personal read for so many of us. This is timeless and is for everyone and is sure to be a hit, not only with individual readers, but also with book groups.

One thing I haven't tried yet is the cover. If you have a suitable device and the blippar app downloaded, then the cover becomes interactive. So far I can honestly say this is the best book I have read this year, and it is so engrossing. This is truly world literature.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow-moving existential angst..., 21 Sep 2013
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Tale for the Time Being (Hardcover)
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Shortlisted for the 2013 Booker, this tells two intertwined tales - of Nao, a Japanese schoolgirl, and of Ruth, a Canadian author of Japanese heritage. Ruth has found Nao's journal washed up on the shore and begins to obsess about finding out whether the people and events Nao discusses are true. Nao's story is of a young girl who has lived most of her life in California but has now returned to Japan and we see the society through her eyes.

Nao's story is interesting, if bleak. Having been brought up in California, Nao is seen as an outsider by her classmates on her return to Japan. We learn of the extreme bullying she is both subjected to and participates in at school, leading her to drop out. Meantime, her suicidal father is making repeated failed attempts to end his own life, leading Nao to harbour suicidal thoughts of her own. In an effort to break this cycle, her parents send her to spend the summer with her old great-grandmother, a Zen nun, who rapidly becomes Nao's sole support and spiritual guide. While here, Nao learns the story of her great-uncle, a war-hero who died during WWII.

Ruth's story is a dull distraction. Ruth is a writer, struggling with long-term writers block, giving Ozeki the opportunity to tell the reader, at length, how very, very tough life is for writers - even one who lives in fairly idyllic surroundings with no apparent real health or money worries and with a partner who loves and supports her. She is also in a perpetual state of existential angst and this part of the novel merely serves to interrupt and slow to a crawl the telling of Nao's tale. And to make matters worse, Ozeki introduces a quasi-mystical, quasi-quantum-mechanical element into Ruth's part that turns Nao's believable and often moving story into some kind of mystical fantasy in the end. The underlying questions that are being examined - of identity and the nature of time - are addressed with a subtlety in Nao's story that is almost destroyed by the clumsy handling of Ruth's portion of the book.

The writing is skilful and confident for the most part and, when telling a plain tale, Ozeki writes movingly and often beautifully. Unfortunately she has attempted to be too clever in this, not just with the supernatural nonsense, but with the whole conceit of Ruth translating Nao's diary as we go along. This leads to lots of unnecessary footnotes, silly little drawings and playing with fonts, all of which merely serve to distract from the story. Ruth will translate a sentence except for one or two words, which she leaves as Japanese in the main body of the text, and then gives the translation a footnote - why? It would be understandable if she only did this with concepts which may be unfamiliar to a Western audience, but she does it for normal words - like leaving in 'zangyo' and telling us in a footnote that this means 'overtime'. The flow of reading is constantly interrupted by the need to check the bottom of the page to find out what the sentence means.

While sometimes telling a story from different points of views adds depth, in this case unfortunately the contrast serves only to weaken the thrust and impact of the main story. Had this been a plainer telling of Nao's story alone, it would probably have got top rating from me, and overall there is enough talent on display here to mean that I may look out for more of Ozeki's work, keeping my fingers crossed she finds a way to end future books without resorting to the fantastical. But, for me, it's hard to see how this could stand in contention with either of the other Booker nominees I've read this year - Harvest or The Testament of Mary. Of course, that probably means it will win...
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't take it to the beach, 27 July 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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A Tale for the Time Being is a very strange novel. Broadly, a lonely and isolated writer of Japanese heritage called Ruth (who could that be?) finds a diary washed up on the beach, wrapped up with a watch and some other papers in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, on the beach in British Colombia. In equal measures, Ruth reads the diary (written in first person by a Japanese 15 year old called Nao) and has her own story told in third person narration.

The story veers constantly between the very mundane story of bullying at school, poverty, loneliness through to questions of purpose, existence, suicide and time. At its core is the Buddhist idea of the butterfly flapping its wings - everything causes ripples and the ripples change history. There are multiple possible futures and, if so, there are multiple possible pasts. Until a future or a past is known, it can be anything.

Ruth Ozeki plays mindgames with the reader constantly in this dense novel; but the reader only really catches on half way through. It is quirky and eccentric; also fairly difficult to get to grips with. This is not helped by digressions in Japanese and French that are footnoted.

In amongst the philosophy, there are some excellent depictions of loneliness on the edge of civilisation in Canada, and social isolation for those who do not have career success in Japan. There are culture clashes as east meets west but Ozeki drives home a pretty forceful message that the west is not the best.

The two narratives interweave in ever less probably ways and the ending, when it comes - and it takes its time doing so - feels unusually satisfying for a text that has got so weird. I suppose that is because the weirdness is grounded in such everyday situations.

The characterisation, especially in the Japanese sections, is deep and convincing. Information is fed to the reader to allow the situation to be constantly re-appraised and people to be seen in new lights. The people in Canada feel more like devices designed to allow ideas to play out - but as devices go, they are good ones.

A Tale for the Time Being is not going to be a light read. Don't take it to the beach - not even one in British Colombia - but give it room to breathe, just stick with it if it gets weird for a bit and all will be right in the end.

Glad to see this one on the Booker longlist - hopefully it will last through to the shortlist.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Magical mix of Japan and Vancouver Island, 8 Sep 2014
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Few novels in the past year have had the magnetism of this work. A brief description will inevitably sound corny, but the writer's immense control of her craft removed any sense of artificiality. Essentially, a novel written in Japanese washes up on the shore of Vancouver Island, and the twin narratives from the modern Canadian and the suicidal girl blend together with constant insights. Essentially, time past and time present join, with glimpses of time future. At no point did the novel seem tricksy. Instead, the security of the writer enabled far deeper contemplation of self and others. No, I'll not do Zen, I think, but I now seem to know more about it without having been directly subject to teaching.
I'm now ending three weeks of travel in Western Canada and Vancouver Island after three weeks in Japan last year. Anyone looking to blend such cultural disparities would relish Ozeki's novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ruth Ozeki's best novel so far, almost too much of a good thing., 20 April 2014
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While reading the first half of "A Tale For The Time Being," I was completely gripped, and I recommended the novel to all my friends as one of the best books of 2013. My feeling was that Ruth Ozeki could be counted with Haruki Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro as a real treasure, a richly innovative writer, unafraid to tackle topics that are intimidatingly intellectual (quantum physics, Zen Buddhism), globally tragic (the tsunami, Fukushima and world ecology) or bitterly cruel (Japanese wartime atrocities, bullying in modern Japanese society).

Why, then, did I finish the novel with a slight sense of disappointment?

I think there were several reasons. The most important is that the novel simply goes on too long and includes too much. The contrasting yet interlinked stories of Nao and Ruth are enough to preoccupy any reader's emotional attention, and would have made a magnificent novel on their own. Bringing in the wartime theme, as well as a host of associated characters, who each have a story to tell, stretches both Ruth Ozeki's narrative skills and the reader's patience too far.

One result is that the novel falls into banality at critical moments, especially during the second half, and that is a real tragedy, since Ozeki's touch in the first half is nigh-flawless.

The magical realism which Ozeki strives after is also very difficult to carry off. García Márquez, the inventor and master of the technique, never used it to impose a falsely happy ending on his stories, but this is what Ozeki does, not once, but throughout the novel, in a series of supernatural cliff-hangers which invariably end well for the characters involved. In order for readers to be gripped by the plight of characters, we need to believe that their creator is capable of killing them -- you know, like God. Ruth Ozeki plainly isn't, and during the latter part of the novel, we are simply waiting for her to tidy up, with little suspense left.

Having dealt with the flaws, I want to say how much I admire this novel. It IS one of the best novels of 2013, and it will remain a classic which will delight thousands of readers. The two central characters, Nao the Japanese schoolgirl and Ruth the American novelist, are exquisitely-drawn. Their suffering is depicted unsentimentally but poignantly.

Perhaps the most impressive thing this book does is to portray Japan, and to depict both the great strengths and the underlying cruelties of a society where deviating from the norm can plunge individuals into a spiral of ostracism, torture and eventually destruction. That haunting theme is what I have carried away from "A Tale For The Time Being," and it was a deeply valuable lesson.

Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of a kind, 12 Dec 2013
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Feels like the book is written for me. Can't stop reading this. The Zen meditation technique, zazen, worth trying.
This is just brilliant! You have to read this to understand why...
Highly recommended for anyone needing to get away from exhausting daily life👍
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I would think up some pun, but I don't have the time., 1 Dec 2013
By 
Ben (Adlington, UK) - See all my reviews
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A thoroughly touching & imaginative novel. I struggle to articulate exactly what I found so compelling about this novel, the individual features & my recollection falls short. It was a wonderful experience to read 'A Tale For The Time Being' & in particular the contrast between the 2 narratives made for surprisingly thrilling reading.
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A Tale for the Time Being
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Hardcover - 11 Mar 2013)
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