Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The characters in this novel were interesting, and the way the various stories are woven together is well done, but I thought the resolution of the various stories was a bit of a bait-and-switch on the author's part. I also found the footnotes added to the diary entries really off-putting at the beginning of the book. I got used to them, and after a while you find out why they are there, but the idea that I was reading a teenager's diary and it had footnotes seemed ridiculous. About half-way through the book the point-of-view moves briefly to an animal which seemed really out of place and bizarre. (Why would a wild animal know the names of towns and rivers and be able to recognize a pulp mill?)  Luckily it was a brief bit after which the narrative got back on track.

There are basically 3 people's stories intertwined here: Ruth, a middle-aged woman living with her husband on an island off the Pacific coast of Canada; Nao, a teenager living in Tokyo with her family; and a Japanese pilot during WWII. I found all of the stories interesting, but the way they were interconnected strained credibility and ultimately (something of a spoiler coming!) they are resolved by either magic or quantum mechanics (depending on which of several proposed theories you believe).

The descriptions of places were really well done, I felt like I was in the various locations. There is also a sly humor to Ozeki's writing. Here is an example:
"The island where Ruth and Oliver lived was named for a famous Spanish conquistador, who overthrew the Aztec empire. Although he never made it up as far north as his eponymous isle, his men did, which  is why the inlets and sounds of coastal British Columbia are scattered with the name of famous Spanish mass murderers. But in spite of its sanguinary name, theirs was a relatively benign and happy little isle. For two months out of the year, it was a gemlike paradise, overflowing with carefree summer people with yachts and vacation homes, and happy hippie farmers raising organic veggies and bare-bottomed babies. There were yoga teachers, body workers, and healers in every modality, drummers and shamans and gurus galore. For two months out of the year the sun shone.
But when the tourists and the summer people left, the blue skies clouded over and the island bared its teeth, revealing its churlish side. The days grew short and the nights grew long, and for the next ten months, it rained. The locals who lived there year-round liked it this way." (p. 141-2)
 There were some really good lines scattered throughout the novel. One of my favorites was, "How had she become a woman who worried about wolves and cougars eating her husband? She had no answer." (p, 172) I love how the universal "how did I get here?" is so specific and rather surreal for the speaker who is a NYC girl.

Despite the issues I had with it this is a novel well worth reading. This book counts toward the Canadian Book Challenge.


  1. Interesting review. I've been wanting to read A Tale for the Time Being for some time now. I like the paragraph from the book, the writing is beautiful.

    1. The writing is beautiful. There is a lot in this story about Nao's relationship with her father. I found those kinds of stories comforting (though they totally made me cry, which isn't like me) after my father died.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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