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A Tale for the Time Being

by Ruth Ozeki

Paperback, 422 pages, Penguin Group USA, List Price: $16 |


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Ruth Ozeki

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A Tale for the Time Being
Ruth Ozeki

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NPR Summary

On the shores of British Columbia, a novelist discovers the diary of a 16-year-old girl named Nao. Nao spent her formative years in California, but her family has returned to Japan, and when the book begins, she's living in Tokyo. Nao tells readers right up front that her diary will be a log of her last few days on Earth: She plans to take her own life, and as the story goes on, readers learn why.

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Lots of colleges have these reading programs; some are just for freshmen, and for others, the entire campus or local community joins in. The idea is that books will stir discussion — and unite a class or campus around a topic. Photo Illustration by Ruby Wallau/NPR hide caption

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Tsunami Delivers A Young Diarist's 'Tale' Of Bullying And Depression

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: A Tale For The Time Being




My name is Nao, and 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 was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid café in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you're reading this, then maybe by now you're wondering about me, too.

You wonder about me.

I wonder about you.

Who are you and what are you doing?

Are you in a New York subway car hanging from a strap, or soaking in your hot tub in Sunnyvale?

Are you sunbathing on a sandy beach in Phuket, or having your toenails buffed in Abu Dhabi?

Are you a male or a female or somewhere in between?

Is your girlfriend cooking you a yummy dinner, or are you eating cold Chinese noodles from a box?

Are you curled up with your back turned coldly toward your snoring wife, or are you eagerly waiting for your beautiful lover to finish his bath so you can make passionate love to him?

Do you have a cat and is she sitting on your lap? Does her forehead smell like cedar trees and fresh sweet air?

Actually, it doesn't matter very much, because by the time you read this, everything will be different, and you will be nowhere in particular, flipping idly through the pages of this book, which happens to be the diary of my last days on earth, wondering if you should keep on reading.

And if you decide not to read any more, hey, no problem, because you're not the one I was waiting for anyway. But if you do decide to read on, then guess what? You're my kind of time being and together we'll make magic!



A tiny sparkle caught Ruth's eye, a small glint of refracted sunlight angling out from beneath a massive tangle of drying bull kelp, which the sea had heaved up onto the san d at full tide. She mistook it for the sheen of a dying jellyfish and almost walked right by it. The beaches were overrun with jellyfish these days, the monstrous red stinging kind that looked like wounds along the shoreline.

But something made her stop. She leaned over and nudged the heap of kelp with the toe of her sneaker then poked it with a stick. Untangling the whiplike fronds, she dislodged enough to see that what glistened underneath was not a dying sea jelly, but something plastic, a bag. Not surprising. The ocean was full of plastic. She dug a bit more, until she could lift the bag up by its corner. It was heavier than she expected, a scarred plastic freezer bag, encrusted with barnacles that spread across its surface like a rash. It must have been in the ocean for a long time, she thought. Inside the bag, she could see a hint of something red, someone's garbage, no doubt, tossed overboard or left behind after a picnic or a rave. The sea was always heaving things up and hurling them back: fishing lines, fl oats, beer cans, plastic toys, tampons, Nike sneakers. A few years earlier it was severed feet. People were finding them up and down Vancouver Island, washed up on the sand. One had been found on this very beach. No one could explain what had happened to the rest of the bodies. Ruth didn't want to think about what might be rotting inside the bag. She flung it farther up the beach. She would finish her walk and then pick it up on the way back, take it home, and throw it out.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Copyright 2013 by Ruth Ozeki.