[Book Review] Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being (2013)

Night owl score - 4.5/5 hoots


When I first glanced at this novel at a bookstore, it seemed like a novel that nobody would buy, maybe because of the fact that many people are not aware of Ruth Ozeki, at least here in India, just like I wasn't when I picked this to read. I made up my mind because I felt some sort of strange attachment to it. It was after all a good decision, one of my best in fact. As a reader, I believe one should sometimes take risks and buy books that are not of usual genres, and always trust one’s instincts. A Tale for the Time Being was that choice, which led me to appreciate other not-so-famous authors and taught me that sometimes the most beautiful stories aren’t the most popular ones.

A Tale for the Time Being is true to its title and brings out a lot of nostalgic emotions during the course of reading; it is hard not to get wrapped up and intrigued by the story of a girl named Nao, who narrates the story of her life in Japan, in the backdrop of the Great Tsunami that wreaked havoc in 2011. She is a sixteen-year-old girl in the story who is connected to a writer in Canada named Ruth (as the author herself) through a diary. Ruth finds Nao’s diary when she is walking along a beach on a remote Canadian island. She believes it to be part of the debris from the tsunami of 2011 and sets out to prove her suspicions. The author plays with dark and vividly astonishing characters and Ruth Ozeki presents to you a marvel, in the simplest form with an effortlessly touching story of Time and its importance and infallibility, how it holds the power to move so ruthlessly that in its course it changes everything and teaches us important lessons, which can be passed on for generations.

Nao writes of how her family returned to Japan after years in America. In the book, Nao only remembers living in America, but is also disconnected from the Japanese culture and is bullied by her classmates because she is ‘different’. She feels out of place and is contemplating suicide. Her father makes several attempts to kill himself. In Japanese culture, suicide is considered an honourable way to die. Apart from Nao’s character, her grandmother’s character is one of the most powerful and beautiful characters I have ever read. In her quest to narrate her grandmother’s story, Nao goes through trauma and layers of anxiety, to gather up the courage in spite of all odds to tell the world one true story about life which is as much important to be told as to be heard by all. The diary is supposed to tell the story of her great grandmother who was a Buddhist nun, feminist, and poet. However, the diary focuses on Nao and her father as they struggle to deal with the harsh reality of their lives in Japan.

Ruth feels for this young girl and strives to learn more than what is written within the pages of the diary. This quest leads her to learn more about herself and her own mother. The story slips between time and connects the two writers and gives them both the strength to control their fears and begin to enjoy their lives again. It will certainly make you laugh, cry, salute the young girl’s courage and originality, and definitely make you realize how beautiful and sacred this life is and it should be lived with uttermost conviction and bravery. Somewhere along the pages of this narrative, I found the spirit to take control of my own life and conjure a lifelong fascination with Zen Buddhism, as it is a central theme in this work. Thus, it truly is a ride full of depth and darkness but honestly, it will change the life of the person who reads it.

For me, if there is one word that could describe it all, it would be ‘inspirational’. This book would make a perfect gift for someone; it brings together various cultural nuances of the Japanese way of life and is very interesting and informative at the same time. It can be fitted into the biographical experiential side of things and has been written in a very intelligent manner alternating between the life of the author and that of the narrator simultaneously. A beautiful quote from the novel goes like this :

“What if I go so far away in my dreams, that I can’t get back in time to wake up?”


Overall, it is a story that can be read and reread; it will always leave you with some wisdom, to make your days more bearable.


This Night Owl Original has been authored by Yastika Sharma, the co-founder of The Night Owl Writes.

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