This was the third book I picked up second hand at the Gibson Street Gala earlier this year. I actually can’t believe I managed to get three such amazing books for so little money. The second-hand book market is seriously underappreciated. It’s also one of the books I’m reading for Megan’s Semi Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge. It was going to be for the “read a book by an author of a different race or religion than you” challenge since Ruth Ozeki is Buddhist (and I am not religious). However, it had such interesting themes that I’ve decided to switch up my challenge books a bit. It’s now going to be for the “read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects” challenge and my nonfiction choice will be In Search of Time by Dan Falk.
A Tale for the Time Being was wonderful and unexpected. As usual, I tried to avoid reading anything about it before I opened it (I didn’t even read the blurb) and I’ve never read anything by Ruth Ozeki before, so perhaps it’s my fault that it was so unexpected, but nevertheless, it was. It alternates between a first person, diary style narrative by a 16-year-old Japanese school girl, Nao. She writes her diary to a person she imagines will find it and read it.
Then, someone does find it and read it. Ruth, a writer living on an island in Canada, finds it on the beach alongside some other paraphernalia and begins to read. The book flips back and forth between Nao and Ruth, with Nao dealing with family troubles and bullying and Ruth dealing with writer’s block and a strong urge to find out more about Nao and somehow help her.
Nao’s life starts to get better (as well as a whole lot more interesting) when she meets her great-grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist nun who teaches her a little about Buddhism, including a few insights into the nature of time and how to develop her “supapawa!” which is mostly meditating, or “sitting zazen” every day. Meanwhile, Nao starts to uncover details about the life of Jiko’s son who was a WWII kamikaze pilot.
It’s a deep and intricate novel, with many layers and ideas. The stories unfold beautifully and while I’m not sure I ever got a feeling of closure for the characters, I still got a feeling of contentment. Although there’s a lot to think about this novel I also found it very easy to read and found myself going through it quite quickly. It also reminded my of Jostein Gaarder’s novels like Through a Glass Darkly and Sophie’s World – I guess because of the links to philosophy – although A Tale for the Time Being isn’t quite so sad. I can already think of the people I’ll be recommending this to.