A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

a tale for the time beingA Tale of the Time Being, shortlisted for 2013 Man Booker Prize, was probably one of the best books I’ve read this year. I brought this novel to my school to read, and my friends ended up reading it. They loved it so much. It’s not often a book gets me excited about reading it as soon as I open it, but that’s what happened with A Tale for the Time Being. Right away, in the first few pages, I am presented to a unique, young voice of a sixteen year old girl.

Ruth, a novelist living off coast in the Pacific with her husband, Oliver, and her cat, Pest, also nicknamed Pesto, found a diary in a Hello Kitty lunch box that had washed up the shore. She had suspected that the diary was from the Tsunami that had hit Japan in 2011–one of the many debris that could be floating in the Pacific Ocean now. She remembered that the Tsunami had killed at least 15,891 people, injured 6,152 and caused 2,584 to be missing, ripping apart families and separating entire families.

Inside the diary was the life of fifteen year old Naoko Yasutani. Not exactly her life, but some parts of it. She wrote about how she managed to live with her father and with ijime. Ijime means ‘bullying’ in Japanese. She also wrote about her Great-grandmother whose she claimed was to be 104 years old, although she didn’t exactly know her great-grandmother’s real age. Nao had mentioned over and over again that there was only one thing for her to escape all the torture of her life. She said that she wanted to commit suicide, an answer that would allow her to end life.

I have heard about bullying a lot, and it’s totally banned in my school. Nobody even dares to bully anybody because of the cameras everywhere, but I’ve read a story in the newspaper: a story about a boy who died because of the bully game. He begged his mother to not tell anything against him, about a group of kids who always gang up on the weak. Because Nao was a foreign, everybody hated her and used ijime against her. They all thought she was weird, aside the fact that she was Japanese too. Ozeki’s writing about bullying is very skilful and confident for the most part.

I don’t think it is nice to take out your anger on someone weaker then you are. Or teasing out poor people. It just isn’t right! There are now many campaigns online, telling the victims–helping them to face the bullies, at school–or around the neighborhood or online. Online bullying and physical bullying that happens to Nao was just terrible. At school, they pushed her around and tried to trip her. The kids encouraged others to not talk to her at all. They even posted a video “Nao’s Funeral.” Nao purposefully did not come to school because she knew. They all pretended she was dead. They placed her picture, and everyone in the class came forward to give flowers–including the teacher.

I had always thought that teachers were a source of inspiration. School was supposed to be a second home, but it wasn’t like that for Nao. The teachers gave her a kind of hostile glare, filled with strong statement that Nao didn’t belong here. She should have just left for her own good.

Meanwhile, Ruth was absorbed completely with the diary’s charm. She would sit and talk about it to her husband Oliver, who agreed that the diary, indeed, was really interesting. Ruth would read it to him at the night, while pondering who was Nao. Did she really exist? Ruth would search the internet, trying to find Nao. Could it be she was one of the missing people during the tsunami’s hit? Did she commit suicide? What was important was that the girl in the diary was crying out for help.

I find that its part of the human nature for us to give up easily. There’s lots quotes and speeches to never give up, but what if we can’t achieve the goal? What if it’s impossible? What if… you had strayed too far off track for you to ever complete it? That happened with Nao’s father. He tried to complete suicide more than once. The first time was when he was so sad about his new life that he tried to get himself hit by the train. It wasn’t successful enough. Another time was when he tried to eat pills. That also failed, and he ended up in the hospital to get his stomach pumped. Nao found out her father joined these groups about suicide online, and the irony of it was that he tried to convince a young girl who wanted to die to not.

Nao’s life was a huge trash before she met Jiko, whom she found out was her great grandmother. First, she wasn’t eager at all the meet her. After all, you wouldn’t be right if you just suddenly found out your father was going to take medications for a while to control his wish to suicide and you’re going to get shipped off to a temple for the rest of your summer? Nao and old Jiko formed a huge bond. Because of that, Nao learned the secrets of Meditating and Haruki #1, Jiko’s first son.  By the way, Haruki #2 was the name of her father who died in the war. Nao soon found inspiration with Haruki #1 because of him being a hero in the battle World War II. They were part of the suicide mission. They were going to hit their plains to other plains in America to kill the pilots, but in the effort, they had to kill themselves.

Like I said in the beginning, this is a wonderful book written by a Canadian-American novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest.  It was multilayered, moving back and forth between the experience of a young girl in Japan and a woman living in Canada. The story explored themes of Zen Buddhism, quantum physics, animal spirits and totems, the effects of the tsunami in Japan, bullying, mental illness and suicide, and moral choices during wartime.

All of these weighty themes are combined in a very enjoyable, seamless way. I couldn’t put the book down. It has an uplifting, hopeful ending. It is whimsical, graceful, and smart. Ruth Ozeki has given a wonderful gift to the readers. Thank you, Madam, to write such a beautiful story! I would highly recommend this novel to everyone.


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