Review Blog

Feb 20 2014

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

cover image

Text Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781922079183.
(Age: Adult and mature secondary readers). Even though Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is a very deserving winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize, my preference from the short list is Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. The structure is as sophisticated and revolutionary as that of the winner - and structure is paramount in both.
Quantum physics is enlisted in A Tale for the Time Being to reinforce the theme of time and its fluidity. Schrodinger's Cat makes an appearance and this famous experiment is also explained in one of the appendices. The title gives another clue as to the importance of time in this novel and Proust's book, A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) plays an integral part in the plot.
One of two major narrators, Japanese teen Nao, has written a diary which is found washed up from the ocean by Canadian/Japanese author, Ruth. There is a commonality between the character and actual author, Ruth. Nao hasn't coped with her family's ignominious return to Japan from the United States. He father tries to kill himself, she is bullied at school, prostitutes herself at the French maid cafe and is also planning her own suicide. Ruth becomes concerned about Nao's safety and the story metafictively unites seemingly impossible, overlapping worlds. Words and pages disappear, time bends.
The narrative is set soon after the Fukushima nuclear power-station meltdown, and the earlier tragedy of World War II's reluctant kamikaze pilots is juxtaposed with this. Japanese content and words are further explored with helpful footnotes, which also makes this novel of interest to senior students exploring Asian literature. The book was written for adult readers so some explicit scenes need a closer look by individual schools before offering this brilliant, and ultimately hopeful, novel to students.
Joy Lawn

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