Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Monday, March 25, 2013
A Tale For The Time Being - review by Nicky Pellegrino
are never going to get anything less than profoundly interesting from a writer
who is also a Zen Buddhist priest. It struck me while reading A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
(Text, $40), that both the author and her novel are considerably smarter than I
am. Still it was well worth the brain stretch required at times to appreciate
is a book that plays with reality and is filled with philosophical ideas,
science and life lessons. The story is told for the most part in two voices.
Author Ruth lives on a remote island in British Columbia with her partner
Oliver (just like the real-life Ozeki). One day she picks up a piece of flotsam
on the beach, a plastic freezer bag containing a Hello Kitty lunchbox. Inside
she finds some letters written in Japanese, a journal in French and a copy of
Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps
Perdu which turns out to have been “hacked” – the printed pages have been
cut out and replaced with blank paper covered in adolescent purple handwriting.
begins to read, discovering this is the diary of a Japanese teenaged girl, Nao
Yasutani, that she presumes has been swept onto their shores in the drift from
the 2011 tsunami. Nao tells how she has decided to kill herself – to drop out
of time. But first she will write the story of her own life and that of her
great-grandmother Jiko, for some unknown person in the future who she believes
will find the diary.
sections of the story are both amusing and heartbreaking. As they alternate
with Ruth’s narrative, it becomes clear there are parallels between the pair.
Both are struggling, longing for other lives in other places, feeling out of
step with those around them.
has been brought up in America but when the Dotcom bubble bursts her family
return to Japan where they live in a cramped Tokyo apartment, her father
depressed and unemployed, Nao bullied with extraordinary cruelty at school, and
no hope of anything changing.
summer spent at a temple near Sendai with the ancient Jiko, a nun and novelist,
gives Nao a new perspective. She learns to medidate and discovers her family
history, becoming fascinated in particular with Jiko’s only son, a suicide
bomber in the Second World War.
she reads through the diary, Ruth’s waking and dreaming lives are increasingly
dominated by Nao and her world. She is
convinced she has to help the girl. But has she already killed herself? Was she
a victim of the tsunami? Is she even real? Internet searches turn up no mention of her,
and even a brief reference to Jiko disappears shortly after Ruth chances on it.
is part-Japanese and A Tale For the Time
Being is a fascinating account of that country’s culture. Her real skill
though is in blending concept and story so beautifully. The result is a novel
that is clever on many levels but also immensely readable.
About the reviewer. Nicky Pellegrino, an Auckland-based author of popular fiction, is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above review was first published on Sunday 17 March 2013.
Her latest novel When In Rome is set in 1950's Italy and was published in September 2012. Her next novel, The Food Of Love Cooking School, will be published later this year