Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being
Ruth Ozeki
4 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentences
"Hi!  My name is Nao and I am a time being."
Publisher's Description:
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 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 a 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 humour 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.
Dear Reader,

Boy, am I slacking!  I'm so sorry.  I finished this book on December 17, but I didn't feel like writing a review for a while, as I was trying to figure out how I felt about this book.  Also, I audiobooked it while driving to & from work, which means that sometimes I finish a book mid-commute and will start another, and then when I get home I'm no longer in the mood to write a review.  Blerg!  (We won't even get into how I've finished ANOTHER audiobook since this one, and also have to write THAT review...)

In ANY case, hmm.  What DID I think of this book?  Well, ultimately (and for like 90% of the book), I did love it.  Ozeki told a great and very enthralling story of a girl who lives in Japan and writes regularly in her diary about her life, her family (past and present), and her feelings.  That part was fantastic, and I never wanted to pause when I was reading about Naoko.  However, Nao's stories are interspersed between those which describe a woman (Ruth, which makes you wonder how autobiographical the novel is) who found Nao's journal years after it was written, and who reads the diary entries obsessively and convinces herself that she can "save" Nao, somehow - even though she doesn't even know what has since happened to the girl.  The "Ruth parts" of the book were significantly less engaging than Nao's, and contained a lot of very annoying characters, but I didn't find them off-putting enough that it ruined the book as a whole, and I did appreciate the device the author used in order to create suspense and a larger story.

The problem is, really, that I don't like fantastical books.  Perhaps that's not the right term - maybe it's more "surreal"?  I love fantasy, if it's placed into a fantasy world or framed as such.  Just not when it's shoved into an otherwise realistic novel, a la Toni Morrison.  And Amber had warned me that this book hit a point where it just...went a bit off.  I found the worst to be the dream that Ruth found herself having, which had quite wide-reaching effects for it being all in her head.  And the parts about how the journal changed.  What didn't bother me, though, was the science with which the book ended.  I mean, it's science, and it's feasible, in its own rational way.  And I kind of liked how Ozeki introduced the scientific element into her very fanciful novel.  But it did seem very strange to tack it on at the end there, and to kind of devolve from a novel into a (very superficial and simplified) scientific text for a few pages before ending.  That just didn't sit right - perhaps I would have felt better if there were hints throughout the book of this, or even just more discussion about the phenomenon as a whole, but it just wasn't working for me, in the long run.  Hence, while this was a 5-star book for the majority of the story (I particularly loved the POV parts about Nao's great-uncle who served as a reluctant kamikaze pilot in WWII), it ended up dropping down a star in my eyes, for the way it ultimately ended.

I do waffle; perhaps it should be close to 4.5, for me.  But, I'm going to leave my initial rating as-is.  And, I would very much recommend this book for the first 90% of it.  Please do keep that in mind - I certainly didn't hate it!  It just threw me for a loop, is all.

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