A Tale for the Time Being – Review

I do believe that sometimes we read books at a particular point in our lives for a reason – whether it reflects something within us, or something we are looking for. I’m heavily in the re-drafting process of my first book and I think I needed to read something awe-inspiring, just to really inject that spark back into it. This book turned out to be Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

I reviewed it on my Goodreads account, below. This wasn’t part of my Goodreads Challenge – instead it was something I picked up when I had finished my January book and had a few days spare, and am I glad I picked it up! The back cover says “It will change the life of the person who finds it. It might just change yours, too.” And it changed mine. I laughed, I cried, I faded to insignificance in the greater picture, and I found new (and existing) joy in life. This is a big book, but the genius of Ozeki’s writing as it never feels epic.

I have read Japanese fiction – Murakami, and others in translation. I’ve always liked Japanese culture, though on a tamer scale I would say than some. Sailor Moon was my introduction to anime, and of course Studio Ghibli has been a stalwart in my film collection for a long time. This book will be the one that stays with me. Ozeki’s writing style, through the voice of Naoko, is so real and authentic.

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

This is a book about voices, and about now, and the transience of now, and I loved it. I don’t want to spoil it, but so much goes on in it that I wouldn’t be able to spoil all of it. A masterpiece by a masterful writer, and it’s kickstarted my writing dream again!

A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book. I’ve had it on my shelves for a long time and never had the opportunity to read it. With a gap at the end of my Goodreads challenge for January, I decided I would give it a go, and I am so glad I did.

This is a book of many plots, of a diary within a book, of letters and stories, and of time. The two chief narrators – Naoko in the diary and Ruth in the “now” narrative – really resonated within me. I think Naoko reminded me of myself, a little bit, so I really felt for her, but I could completely relate to the writer’s block Ruth was feeling, and I felt both of their stories – entwined, as they were – were so fully immersive.

The structure works – Naoko’s diary, which is and isn’t a diary, and as typical of a sixteen-year-old girl, doesn’t always do what she promises, and then Ruth’s life, part in reaction to what she has read, and part in her own journey. Sometimes the flip between two storytellers is intrusive but both stories are so compelling it feels easy. The story is gradually revealed to be bigger and bigger, in scale and in the issues it confronts, and it is really poignant and effective.

The overriding theme of time and of “now” is particularly effective as the author puts herself and her partner into the work, which lends a certain intimacy and realism to the work.

If you are interested in Japanese culture, Canada, the tsunami, writer’s life, writer’s block, bullying, World War II, kamikaze pilots, internet, Zen, temple worship, isolated life – the list is endless, then please pick this up! It will change your life – it changed mine.

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