Oct 15, 2013

The Weeknight Book Club: 'A Tale for the Time Being' by Ruth Ozeki.

It's not every day that the words 'Man Booker Shortlist' follow the title of  books I review on this blog.  My excuse is that I'm in a page turner, light entertainment phase of my reading life.  In my short time as a mother, I've figured out that it's much easier to combine reading a Kindle with keeping an eye on a wriggling infant than say to combine infant wrangling with watching television (said infant babbles through the program but is quiet during the ad breaks) or even to flick through a magazine (said infant is guaranteed to want to taste whatever page you're reading).

But I have been meaning to read a shortlisted novel for quite a while.  Each year, the short list would be announced in a news radio segment and I'd then get home and google the candidates.  Mostly, things never got beyond the google search.  The short list always sounded way too complicated and intellectual for my purposes.  I'd promise myself to get a copy of something for the Christmas break but it never quite happens.

Until this year when I heard about Ruth Ozeki's novel, A Tale for the Time Being.


'A Tale for the Time Being' is the most amazing book.  It is beautifully written and it has a plot that appears to have been seamlessly spun from silk.  Disparate themes, characters, places and periods of history are connected by a mystery of our modern times.  It's the kind of book that's so special and moving that I really hope it gets spared the curse of being made into a film.

Sixteen year old Nao Yasutani lives in present day, post tsunami Tokyo with her parents.  The comfortable life they had in California disappeared as the dot com bubble burst, causing the family to move back to Tokyo with very little financially.  Nao's father spiralled downward into a life of gambling and deceit which culminated in a failed suicide attempt.  Nao herself gets bullied at her high school.  Bullied for being too big, for being too foreign and for being too poor.  The harassment culminates in her classmates performing a funeral for her and letting video taped footage go viral.  Nao's mother intervenes which is how Nao finds herself spending a summer with her 104 year  old great grandmother who happens to be a Buddhist nun.

A world away in Desolation Sound, British Columbia, lives Ruth who discovers Nao's diary.  The mystery of Nao's own life and that of her ancestors lies in the pages of the diary and Ruth is drawn into all of it.  Nao is a girl isolated and alone in a country of millions that's in constant motion.  Her journal is her way of reaching out to find that one person who will understand and befriend her.  Is Ruth that person?

Ozeki has this brilliant ability to authentically write from the hearts and minds of her characters.  The world of a displaced teenager in Tokyo is as real as that of the American adult woman trying to overcome writer's block as she tries to find inspiration for her current work.  Between these narratives is a world of Japanese history touching on World War II and the Buddhist philosophies of the country's ancient religion.

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