Hi, my name is Nao. I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well if you give me a moment, I will tell you.
A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me and every one of us who is, or ever was, or ever will be.
So begins the epic and sublime novel A Tale for the Time Being by author Ruth Ozeki, released in 2013. These first words for a novel captivated me and I am certain that they will captivate you. I was initially dubious about this novel having been recommended it via gushing reviews from other bloggers. However I ate my words because every page of this novel is breathlessly beautiful and crafted with perfection.
Themed around the interconnectedness of all things, a familiar philosophical underpinning of Zen Buddhism, Ruth Ozeki manages to interweave the story of Nao a teenage girl living in a Japan prior to the recent cataclysmic earthquake and a struggling writer living a decade later in a remote Canadian seaside town. The two characters are separated by the vast expanse of the Northern Pacific ocean, time and space and yet they ‘meet’ each other via a Hello Kitty lunch box that washes up on a beach in the Canadian fishing village, containing the diaries of Nao from a decade earlier and an old watch.
Using profound linguistic grace and emotive firepower, author Ruth Ozeki manages to capture the relationships between people, time, space and memory in this heartbreaking, poignant, and very human novel. The main character (also named Ruth) begins a delicate and forensic investigation into the beach discovery and Nao’s letters. Ruth feels the encouragement of Nao over time and space and so slowly overcomes her writer’s block and writes her own memoirs.
A Tale for the Time Being features characters recalling their fair share of tragedy, soulful personal discovery and Zen-like moments of patient realisation. The characters are vivid and larger than life, including Nao’s feminist, radical great-grandmother a Buddhist monk who moves through life with ease, grace and wisdom and her son (Nao’s grandfather), an ill-fated and poetic Kamikaze pilot in World War II.
However telling you any more would be giving away this novel’s secrets. It’s a warm, compassionate and soulful journey into the heart of what it means to be human. It’s magic lies in the art of discovery. Of how people are delighted to encounter relics of the past and to construct stories of people’s lives. Although in Ozeki’s artful hands, the story is weaved from equal parts Magic Realism and Zen Buddhism for a ride into the sublime unlike any novel out there.
Get a comfy chair and glass of good red wine for this one, it will be a long and lovely night.