Last month my book club read and discussed Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being along with the UW Go Big Read, an annual event that “has thousands of people reading, talking and sharing their reactions and opinions.” This is our third year reading along with the Go Big Read and I think I can speak for my book club when I say it’s been our favorite one so far. In fact, for the first time in book club history, everyone at the meeting LOVED the book unanimously. This has never happened guys. It’s kind of a big deal.
We opened off our discussion of the book with the simple question, “What, in your mind, is a time being?” And everyone had a different opinion. According to sixteen year old Nao, one of the book’s two narrators:
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
This was a book that took a long time to savor. I had a really hard time reading it quickly and I wasn’t alone. A few of us commented on the format of the book being part of the “problem” – told from two points of view, I found that after reading one section each from both narrators, I wanted to put the book down and let the story marinate in my mind for awhile before continuing. Every night. It wasn’t until the day of book club when I had about half the book to go that I realized I was going to have to step it up – so I spent the entire day reading. I cancelled plans, sat on the couch and ignored the world from 7am until about 4pm when I finally, finally finished. And wow.
I LOVED this book. How do I even describe it? Here’s what goodreads.com has to say about it:
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.
Book club found us discussing all sorts of different facets of the book – we talked about philosophy, life, death, teenage bullying, suicide, internet privacy, ghosts, trying to fit into a new place after moving, marriage, parenting, prostitution, parallel universes, ethics and on and on and on. This is a book that makes you think and then makes you think harder and then makes you think that maybe you don’t know very much after all.
It’s a sort of story within a story within a story that seems to be constantly changing the rules and making you question what you thought you understood and believed in. It is gritty and realistic and then fantastical with a supernatural element all in one moment. Ozeki definitely likes to explore the two sides to every thought and every story, every person and every moment.
The truth is I could talk about this book for days and never truly do it justice, never really do more than crack the surface of what is underneath and the only way you can really experience it is to read it for yourself, which I encourage you to do immediately. Seriously, just stop reading this review, go get your hands on a copy and start reading immediately. You won’t regret it.
Basically, it’s brilliant.