Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 50% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Shop now Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars324
4.4 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£6.29+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

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.
44 comments|116 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I thought this a very good book in many ways and although it did take me a long time to get into it, I found it a very involving and rewarding read in the end.

Ruth Ozeki writes very readable prose which is sometimes rather beautiful but never tips over into the self-regarding. The story, well summarized elsewhere, is of a writer (Ruth) on a remote Canadian island who discovers, washed-up on the beach, a container with letters and the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl (Nao). The narrative alternates between the diary and Ruth reading it and investigating its story and its author. I confess that I found the first 100 pages or so difficult to get into and a bit stilted and self-conscious, but Nao's voice and her insights into Japanese society drew me in eventually, and I found her story involving and touching. I never quite felt the same about Ruth's sections which always felt slightly artificial and mannered to me, although Ozeki generates a very good sense of place and atmosphere around the characters.

There is a lot of philosophical content here, much of which is very good. It includes some rather profound insights about love, about growing up and learning to look outside yourself and about Zen. Late in the book there is also quite a bit about quantum physics. My heart sinks a bit when I realise that a novelist is starting on quantum physics because it often degenerates into dreadful nonsense, but to Ozeki's credit she gets the physics right, although I thought that her drawing of parallels between quantum physics and Zen were less successful and didn't really add up to that much. (But then, from Fritjof Capra's The Tao Of Physics onward there has been a great deal of nice-sounding verbiage and a good deal less real substance written about physics and Zen, so she's not alone.)

I could also have done without the mystical elements toward the end. (I won't give any spoilers) I could see what Ozeki was driving at and why she structured it as she did, but in a factual narrative it seemed a little silly in places. Not quite Carlos Castaneda, thank heavens, but heading that way at times.

This review may seem rather more critical than I mean it to be. I enjoyed the book in the end and think it had some important things to say. I did have reservations, but would still recommend it as a readable, intelligent and in places quite profound book.
0Comment|3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
11 comment|45 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 21 October 2014
I loved this book. A Tale for the Time Being contains so much, its characters are so rich and yet the book maintains an easy pace, even when the pages contain complex information.

The story is built around two sets of characters based in two places and two different times. The primary characters are Ruth and Nao. Ruth lives in the present day on a remote Canadian island, with her partner, Oliver, and their cat. Ruth had been a successful writer in New York City but has since been struggling with writer's block. Nao is a Japanese teenager whose life has taken a turn for the worse. Her family had been enjoying the trappings of the dotcom boom in California but have been forced to return to Japan after the fortune, in every sense, took a downward turn.

The lives of Ruth and Nao cross after Ruth finds the Japanese girl's diary washed up on the island where she lives. In an effort to decide how it made its way across the ocean - was the diary pulled out to sea by the recent tsunami? - Ruth is drawn into Nao's life: her family's difficult adjustment after arriving back in Japan. Nao's diary also introduces Ruth to two more generations of the Japanese family's, an uncle who was reluctant soldier in the second world war and her grandmother -an anarchist feminist turned nun.

A Tale for the Time Being is a smart book, but it is also an easy book to read. The reader is treated to rich details about Japanese culture, language and history but in an effortless way. Fictional events within the book are woven with real contemporary events to create a beautifully layered story.

More than anything I loved the tone of the book. The characters are so compelling because their dialogue is so realistic and their problems so believable. Their dialogue is so interesting too, like listening to an interesting guest who is exceptionally erudite yet can communicate the ideas in a way that is easy to comprehend. For example, the book contains musings on Proust an quantum physics but discussed in a way that friends may discuss the plot of a film

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's easy enough to be a relaxing read yet complex enough to make you think. Enjoy it.
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This was on the Booker shortlist and although it didn't win, it's clearly highly rated by many critics. The book has so many subjects and references to so many other books, that it's almost like a "scattergun" approach.

We get heavyweights like Proust and Heidegger - who's Being and Time is clearly a major inspiration for the title and the discourses on the nature of time - as well as subjects like Zen Buddhism and Quantum Mechanics.

But really, I think that if it's about any one thing - this is about the process of writing itself. Ruth is a semi-autobiographical character, putting off writing her own book - by finding and reading about maybe her past self? At least it's possible that Nao is based on the author's previous experiences in Japan.

A Japan of stagnation, where workers are cut adrift and left to contemplate suicide as their best option. A Japan where its ancient and meaningful, past culture has been swept aside for a transitory, Western-influenced consumerism. Where the latest trends lack any meaning and are swept aside in shorter and shorter periods of time. "Being and Time" was itself the inspiration for Sartre's Being and Nothingness and maybe it is the latter's existential angst that dominates here.

Both main characters are ostensibly writing books about older female relatives - but end up betraying more about their own lives, no matter how much they may claim to admire their subjects. Both characters are searching for meaning in philosophy, religion and science, but find no answers and drift amongst ideas - in much the same way as the garbage described floating on sea currents. The plastic junk that can never be destroyed is much like the concepts that are discussed - endlessly tossed about on the sea of the writer's imagination.

In many ways this is the strength but also the weakness of the book - it can be frustrating reading, when things just seem to be drifting along and not much happening. But this is also a subject of the book - how time slows down and speeds up, as we become more or less interested in what we are doing. The sea drift matching the seemingly random nature of the concepts discussed. We are left to contemplate whatever washes up on our doorstep.

So in many ways this is a very clever book in how it seems to portray a random current of ideas flowing naturally - but this also makes it a hard read at points and you want the characters to get on with it - for the story to move on. There are some fascinating ideas here that really make you think - but the characters are frustratingly passive and the story-telling is unsatisfying - a bit like life itself really.
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 4 March 2013
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.
0Comment|25 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
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.
22 comments|24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 19 March 2014
I bought this book after my librarian sister recommended it to me. The story follows a lady called Ruth who finds the diary of a young Japanese girl which has washed up on her island in Canada. The details of the diary are interspersed with Ruth's own life and thoughts and you find yourself wanting to know whether the young Japanese girl has come to any harm.

I enjoyed reading about Japanese culture both past and present, learning the odd Japanese word along the way too. I did find that the story dragged towards the end and I had to really push myself to read the last few chapters, which is a shame because the beginning was very promising.

Despite that, I wouldn't disregard any future works of the author, as I enjoyed the style and the pace of the beginning of the book.
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 16 December 2014
Take a seat open the book and attain a superposition and entanglement, in a moment in a possibility. Be, experience the possibilities.
Some books are so much more than a story, so much more than words or history, some books are just ideas and imagination; this one is all of that and more. It opens layers and layers of stories and ideas, it gives so much to the mind and the heart of its reader, that you have to explore the references and the other authors mentioned to digest, to taste all that is given in this work.
I had never read this author before but I plan to get more acquainted with her work, her mind is too beautiful to ignore or live without., create new ones with every decision or doubt. Encounter others in this world, through the pages through time.
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
I thought this a very good book in many ways and although it did take me a long time to get into it, I found it a very involving and rewarding read in the end.

Ruth Ozeki writes very readable prose which is sometimes rather beautiful but never tips over into the self-regarding. The story, well summarized elsewhere, is of a writer (Ruth) on a remote Canadian island who discovers, washed-up on the beach, a container with letters and the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl (Nao). The narrative alternates between the diary and Ruth reading it and investigating its story and its author. I confess that I found the first 100 pages or so difficult to get into and a bit stilted and self-conscious, but Nao's voice and her insights into Japanese society drew me in eventually, and I found her story involving and touching. I never quite felt the same about Ruth's sections which always felt slightly artificial and mannered to me, although Ozeki generates a very good sense of place and atmosphere around the characters.

There is a lot of philosophical content here, much of which is very good. It includes some rather profound insights about love, about growing up and learning to look outside yourself and about Zen. Late in the book there is also quite a bit about quantum physics. My heart sinks a bit when I realise that a novelist is starting on quantum physics because it often degenerates into dreadful nonsense, but to Ozeki's credit she gets the physics right, although I thought that her drawing of parallels between quantum physics and Zen were less successful and didn't really add up to that much. (But then, from Fritjof Capra's The Tao Of Physics onward there has been a great deal of nice-sounding verbiage and a good deal less real substance written about physics and Zen, so she's not alone.)

I could also have done without the mystical elements toward the end. (I won't give any spoilers) I could see what Ozeki was driving at and why she structured it as she did, but in a factual narrative it seemed a little silly in places. Not quite Carlos Castaneda, thank heavens, but heading that way at times.

This review may seem rather more critical than I mean it to. I enjoyed the book in the end and think it had some important things to say. I did have reservations, but would still recommend it as a readable, intelligent and in places quite profound book.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Customers also viewed these items


Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.