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on 1 April 2016
A totally gripping book with real depth that sent me off investigating lots of ideas - brilliant.

The story starts with an author called Ruth who lives on a Canadian island and who finds a diary by a troubled Japanese teenager washed up on the beach. The stories of the author and the teenager unfold together through the book, mixing East and West just as the philosophies of Heidegger and Zen Buddhism are drawn together.

Along the way we explore the sacred and profane sides of Japanese culture, rarely told stories of Japanese military history, quantum mechanics, death, free will, connectedness, the tension between the modern and traditional worlds and more.

I can't remember the last time a book sent me off learning about new things in the way this has, and yet it also has a page-turner of a plot and always invites you along the journey - it's never impenetrable. It feels like a book to revisit through your life that will grow and unfold with you.

Highly recommended.
5 people found this helpful
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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.
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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.
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on 5 April 2015
I'm not entirely sure what my thoughts are about this book. It was recommended by a friend on the promise that it was amazing, and everyone interpreted the meaning in their own way. That was last summer, and it's taken me until now, roughly 9 months later to finish it. It's not that it wasn't enjoyable, because it was. Nao's voice is amazing, and it really does feel like you've got a sulky teenager talking to you. I loved the imagery on her point of view. Ruth, I was less sure about. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to think about her and Oliver. I wasn't sure if she still loved him, if she was happy with him, or her life on the island.

There's a definite degree of spirituality and mysticism to the story, and at times I was worried it would be a bit OTT. Ruth Ozeki has cleverly weaved in parallels between Nao and Ruth's world, but for me, Ruth and Oliver's life became less and less interesting. It felt like the the information about tree and animal species and ocean flows was just a bit too much for me to understand and I ended up skimming those parts.

As for the ending, or the meaning, or the outcome, or the 'so what WAS that all about then?' at the end? I don't know. And that's actually fine for me. I don't feel like I really need to know. Whether that says it was good or not, I have no idea. Would I recommend it? Yes, I would, if only because I think it's one of those that you have to read for yourself.
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on 8 April 2015
A lovely, subtle and highly imaginative twin track tale of abuse and discovery.

An American finds a diary on a north-west beach and becomes instantly obsessed with the writer, a young Japanese girl, living in Japan but who had been brought up in California for some years. Gradually the girl's life unfolds and as it does her crippling defencelessness becomes an issue as the girl is bullied and tortured at her school. The diary-reader and her husband are remote figures at first but slowly they come to the forefront and by the end there is a mysterious connection between the two worlds - and a third, that of a Kamikaze pilot, the son of the girl's luminous Zen nun grandmother.

This is very readable and gentle, though much suffering is charted. It is a story of bullying, outcastes and of acceptance, with a Zen underpinning which is steadily and rightly in the background.
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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2015
"Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being" - what a great way to start a book.
This novel was recommended to me by a couple of friends and more than one recommendation is usually a good sign so I bought it. The story is based around a diary written by Nao in Japan and found by Ruth in Canada. As the book moves on we find out more about Ruth's life and, through the diary, Nao's.
Nao is a teenager who has moved back to Japan with her parents having lived most of her life in US and is struggling with the culture change, Ruth is older but has moved from New York to the wilds of a Canadian island and is similarly uncomfortable with her world.
The two characters have a lot in common and this is gradually explored as Ruth reads the diary. She comes to learn much more about herself and her relationships. Nao's youth gives her an innocence which she uses to be able to comment objectively on the world, whereas Ruth has a more weary view, ground down by her experiences (although she is not as old as she appears to be).
It's a beautifully written book so I was surprised that it took me a while to settle into the style of writing. I think it was the slow pace that I had to get used to - this is controlled by Ruth as she wants to read the diary in real time as it was written rather than just whizzing through as is my inclination. Once I had slowed down though I loved this book and didn't want it to end, although when it did I thought it was handled perfectly.
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on 23 February 2018
At depth, a real insight into Buddhism and how it tallies with quantum physics. And very well written. But though I felt sympathy with the main characters (Nao and Ruth), I found it hard to connect with anyone but Jiko, the old nun, when it came to the story. Everyone is so self-centered and self-pitying. Though I'm glad I stuck with it for the latter part. ijime (bullying) is made to be a very cruel Japanese thing, but I bet it goes on in lots of schools in many a country. However, I would hope the teachers wouldn't take part in the same way.
Disturbing, depressing, yet interesting.
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on 7 September 2014
This is an interesting and creative book, that starts well but ends badly. The basic story line of a bullied young Japanese girl and her suicidal father is good, the way it interweaves with the story of Ruth in Canada is an innovative twist. The problems are that Ruth is obviously the author writing about herself and is frankly, a very dull character. The ending is ambitious but poorly executed. And the last 10 or so pages which explain how the ending might have been possible are a shame bringing in all sorts including quantum physics which play no part in the rest of the book. Any book that needs to explain itself after it has completed is a bit of a creative mess in my mind.
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on 30 May 2014
This was an interesting book, original and thought provoking. About half way through I felt the author was trying to maybe get too much into the story, and three quarters through I struggled. At this point it seemed to go off at a bit of a tangent, with dreams and other worlds and quantum physics involved. The story of the Japanese girl and her Father (the mother was a bit of a shadow) and their trials was good, and I liked the Japanese Grandmother and her story. I would have liked more about her and her life in the Japanese monastery. I found Ruth, who found the Japanese girl's diary on the other side of the world - possibly after the Tsunami or not - and her husband and their cat and the island itself tiresome. An unsatisfactory ending, which I think would have been better resolved, maybe Ruth finding Nao and her Father. We will never know. However, the book gets you thinking, which is always good.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 January 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of this book, before utlimately being disappointed with the rather surrealist closing chapters. Based around the diaries of a young Japanese girl which are washed up and found on the coast of Canada after the tsunami, this book touches on Zen Budhism, quantum physics, French literature, kamakaze pilots, dislocation, hope, fear, love, and much else.

I found myself reading into the night to find out what would happen to Nao, the young author of the dairies, and what had happenend to Haruki 1, her uncle, and reluctant kamakaze pilot. I found the ending streched my belief too far though and this distracted a little from what was otherwise a really wonderful book.

Well worth reading though - as other reviewers have noted there is a flavour of Maurakami's books about this, and if, like me, you have enjoyed his writing you will almost certainly enjoy this too.
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