Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Ruth, an author living with her husband on a remote Canadian island, finds a treasure while beachcombing one day.  It is a package caught up in some flotsam on the beach and when she opens it, she finds that it contains a diary, some letters, a man's watch and a journal written in French.  Excited, she takes her find home and beings to read the diary.

It is the story of a teenager in Japan.  Nao is currently living in Tokyo, but was raised in Sunnyvale, California.  When her father is downsized from his computer programming job, the family has to return to Japan.  Unable to find a job, the father is ashamed of the crowded apartment they are forced to live in.  Nao is not accepted at her new school, but instead is ostracized and bullied by her schoolmates.

As Ruth reads further, she becomes involved in this other family's life.  Ruth is at loose ends herself, not having written a book lately and unsure if she wants to remain on the island.  She begins to dream about the people in this Japanese family and wonder how the package ended up so many miles from their home.  Were they caught up in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami?  Are they even still alive?

Nao writes of her life.  One of the most influential people in her life is her great-grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun.  She helps Nao accept her new life, and shares with her the story of her son, who is Nao's great-uncle.  He had been a suicide bomber in World War II, a gentle philosophy student who is forced into this role by an uncaring government determined on winning the war.  Ruth realizes that the watch and letters belong to this man.

Ruth Ozeki has written a magical book, one that gives hope to the reader as the family's life is read.  There are autobiographical features, as Ozaki is herself a Zen Buddhist priest who lives on an island in British Columbia.  The book explores themes such as self acceptance, duty, strength in adversity and love of family.  It slowly unfurls the lives of others and explores how we can live in an imperfect world.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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