Book Review: 'A Tale For The Time Being'

Alan Cheuse reviews the novel A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

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And finally this hour, a new novel that tells the story of two lives intersecting across an ocean after the recent tsunami in Japan. It's written by Ruth Ozeki. Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "A Tale for the Time Being" offers a huge pun in its title. The time being means for our current days and also refers to one of the main characters in the book, a suicidal 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl named Naoko. Naoko's nickname is Nao, Nao, get it? She's clearly a creature of time; as are all of us, she both assures and warns us.

Ozeki might also have called her book "A Tale of Two Shores." She discovers the schoolgirl in a diary preserved against the ocean, a diary which, thanks to the recent Japanese tsunami, washes up on the shore of her British Columbian island residence. Yes, Ozeki turns herself into a character in this book and portrays herself as reading the diary in a race against a huge wave of oncoming time. When did Nao compose this diary?

Might she have already killed herself or is she still alive? Her father's already tried to kill himself. Fortunately, as Nao tells the story in her diary, before ending her life, she wants to write the biography of her ancient great grandmother, an ailing Buddhist nun. Ozeki herself, by the way, is a Buddhist priest, which is no small part of the story.

Her knowledge of Buddhist texts sparks footnotes on many pages of this novel, as does her knowledge of Japanese. As we read Nao's story and the story of Ozeki's reading of it, as we go back and forth between the text and the notes, time expands for us. It opens up onto something resembling narrative eternity. And that's not a bad thing. Page after page, slowly unfolding. And what a beautiful effect that is for a novel to create.

BLOCK: That novel is called "A Tale for the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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