There are some books that just seem to call out to you. You have to read them, no matter what. This happens rarely but when it does, you cannot ignore it. I mean it is for a reason that you have to read them I guess, for that connection that needs to be maintained between a book and its reader. There is no better explanation that I can come up with. It is with this intent and this magnetic pull to this book, “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki that I asked for a review copy and read it slowly, savoring it almost, and hoping it would not end. However, it did and here is my review.
“A Tale for the Time Being” is set across two time periods. We meet Nao, sixteen-year old girl, living in Tokyo, wants to get away from her lonely life and bullying classmates. She comes up with a perfect plan to do that. However before that she wants to chronicle the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who has lived for more than a century. She chances upon a diary (with the Proust angle to it) and starts to make note of her grandmother’s life.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ruth, an author living in Canada, on a remote island, chances upon a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed away at the shore. The contents seem to have been debris of the devastating tsunami of 2011. Before she knows it, Ruth is taken in by Nao’s life (the lunchbox but obviously contained Nao’s diary) and her life then takes a whole new turn and meaning.
This in short is the plot of the book. Having said that, there are many layers to it, which confound the reader and at times also leave the reader restless and wanting to know more. There is the mystery of the great-grandmother’s life and how did the diary and the lunchbox come about on an island far away. At the same time, there is also the meditation on home, love and sense of time, more so from Nao’s perspective which is beautifully written.
There is at the same time different tracks running through the book that of loneliness, of wanting more from this life and of wanting to call a place home, which is paramount in the book. Ruth’s writing when talking about the author is almost meta-like, which leaves the reader guessing if or not it is based on her life or parts of her life. The magical angle of the book is beautifully written, with reference to Nao’s parts and her life. The work of an author according to me is very-well done is when readers fall in love with characters and in this case, it is right on target. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Nao and Ruth. I was hungry for more, almost every night to get back home and start reading the book from where I had left it. The humanity of the novel is enormous and takes your breath away in most places. “A Tale for the Time Being” is a marvellous and illuminating read.