What I’m Reading: A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Hello, World.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about what I’m currently reading, or just read. This is because with my internship this summer finding time to read got pretty difficult. I realize that sounds like an excuse, and it probably is to some degree, but honestly, when I got off work at 5 p.m., I usually ended up running errands, watching TV with my parents, or getting ready to go back to school. In the last week, however, I’ve forced myself to make time in order to read Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being. I had to read this novel as part of my resident advisor position. Each year, Saint Mary’s College of California chooses a First Year Experience book that all first year students are required to read, as the book will be discussed during their Weekend of Welcome. I honestly really enjoy this part of Saint Mary’s, so I was kind of excited to be part of it again. Anyway, I wanted to share my thoughts about the novel, which I finished quickly because it was really enticing (thank goodness!)
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As a disclaimer, this is not a book I would have picked up in a bookstore and bought. The premise is a little outside my general taste, but honestly I’m glad it was required reading because I really enjoyed the novel, and I would have missed out if it were up to me basically judging a book by its cover! See folks, this is why you shouldn’t just ignore all those required books in high school and college classes. Some of them are gems just waiting to be read.

A Tale For The Time Being follows two characters, Ruth, a middle-aged woman living on a small island in Canada, and Nao, a young woman growing up in Tokyo, Japan. Orzeki builds her novel by having Ruth discover Nao’s journal on the shores of her local beach, and soon Ruth becomes enticed and rather obsessed with Nao’s family, history, and well-being. The chapters alternate between Ruth’s world, where she lives on a tiny, somewhat suffocating island with her husband and their cat, and Nao’s world, where the young woman struggles with bullying, a suicidal father, and a sense of loneliness. While both characters were interesting, I was more drawn to Nao’s story. There was something so raw, heartbreaking, and yet, a little hopeful about her writing. Orzeki builds her novel by having Ruth discover Nao’s journal on the shores of her local beach, and soon Ruth becomes enticed and rather obsessed with Nao’s family, history, and well-being. The story was well-written, and the two worlds were woven together so seamlessly that I often wondered if there would be a huge philosophical connection between them revealed by the novel’s end.

This book is honestly a little hard for me to describe because so much happens between the first few pages and the final few lines. However, the thing that really struck me about this novel was the blurred lines between past and present, and the intensity and confusion that surrounds the human conscience. I greatly appreciated the difficulty associated with confronting those we love when they disappoint us, or when we expect more, or when we are just really angry with them. The story has so many beautiful scenes that really highlight the difficulty of humanity, unstable but loving relationships, and the loneliness we can feel even when we are surrounded by bodies. Since I read this book for school, I annotated my copy of the novel, but I found myself laughing because I would literally underline paragraphs at a time because the writing was so flawlessly on point.

While I enjoyed the entirety of the work, I will say the latter half of the third section was not my favorite. I felt that the story took a turn toward a very large, almost too-large, statement. I felt that the subtle nuances that enveloped the story from page one were enough to finish the novel strong, but the novel’s ending was really big. I don’t want to give anything away, so I will say it was just a lot to wrap your head around. I actually read the last two ‘chapters’ twice because I felt like I read it too quickly the first time, so I forced myself to really slow down and absorb what was being told. The second time I read it, I understood where the novel was going, and I was impressed. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone looking for a beautifully crafted, well-written novel written by a strong female writer.

Here are some lines that really resonated with me while reading:

Life is fleeting. Don’t waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!” 

“Print is predictable and impersonal, conveying information in a mechanical transaction with the reader’s eye. Handwriting, by contrast, resists the eye, reveals its meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin.” 

“Information is a lot like water; it’s hard to hold on to, and hard to keep from leaking away.” 

“Both life and death manifest in every moment of existence. Our human body appears and disappears moment by moment, without cease, and this ceaseless arising and passing away is what we experience as time and being. They are not separate. They are one thing, and in even a fraction of a second, we have the opportunity to choose, and to turn the course of our action either toward the attainment of truth or away from it. Each instant is utterly critical to the whole world.” 

“Sometimes you don’t need words to say what’s in your heart.”

“In reality, every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument, which he offers to the reader to permit him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. The reader’s recognition in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its truth. —Marcel Proust, Le temps retrouvé” 

“At one point in my life, I learned how to think. I used to know how to feel. In war, these are lessons best forgotten.” 

“But in the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It’s already then.” 

Read reviews, add the novel to your to-read list, or just check out the book’s details on goodreads now! I gave this book four stars because it was better than the average novel, and I found myself pulled in, as well as asking questions.

Truly,
Callie leigh

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