A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Holy crap, so that’s how it goes, huh? A month whizzes by before you know it and you haven’t posted anything! I console myself with the fact that I’ve actually been reading and writing quite a lot this past month, but a lot of the writing bit has been raw and rough (albeit bountiful) like brown rice, not shelled and shined yet. Not quite palatable. But I thought, geez: as much as I want to make everything here perfect, I just need to get something out there. So here’s a great book that I read and want to share with you.

I should warn you (this is it – I’m warning you) before you start that I’m heavily biased to be quite favourable towards post- 3/11 Japanese Tsunami literature. In fact, I love it so much that if I had a PhD, I’d have a mind to gather it all up and teach a class on it.

I don’t, so we won’t worry about that.

This is the most beautiful book I’ve read in awhile. I guess being written by an amazing Canadian zen priestess doesn’t hurt. Her word choice is so full of care, and love of language. The book is not in a hurry with itself, and yet somehow manages a sense of urgency all the same, although you’ll probably find it mostly emanates from the reader. It is not slow either, and actually the pacing is quite brisk, taking you through it like a nice, relaxing run that doesn’t leave you winded, but instead in awe of your surroundings.

This book has links to French philosophers, German lovers, Japanese families and Canadian roots. Another reason I’m biased – I’m lucky enough to have connections with all those cultures. Seriously, it’s like this book was written for me, or anyone who loves languages. Enjoy the Japanese vocabulary it throws at you which goes far beyond the commonplace pop-culture references like ‘kawaii’ and ‘hentai’ which have traveled over here, and which most people know, even if they won’t admit to knowing. There are also beautiful french phrases, mostly taken from Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (in search of lost time).

Ozeki’s writing style (which you’ll probably enjoy if you’re already a fan of authors such as Vonnegut, Murakami, Kundera) also achieves two narrators with distinct voices, prerogatives, and atmospheres, who gradually begin to share the same language of french philosophers and zen feminist anarchist monks. There are also stories within stories, which reach back to WWII and include American test pilots, whales,  a kamikaze or ‘sky soldier’ of Japan, and more. The two time beings within the book are linked by device (a mysterious diary washed up on the shore near Whaletown, B.C.) and the atmosphere throughout is awash with the powers of spirituality, quantum physics, nostalgia, philosophy, dreams and magic, as well as the metaphysical powers of reading.

Here are some excerpts I highlighted on my way through, I hope I’ve chosen the right snippets to entice you:

“No. Haruki never hated Americans. He hated war. He hated fascism. He hated the government and its bullying politics of imperialism and capitalism and exploitation. He hated the idea of killing people he could not hate.”

“Bad idea. Shouldn’t let your narrative preferences interfere with your forensic work.”

“Americans always call it World War II, but a lot of Japanese call it the Greater East Asian War, and actually the two countries have totally different versions of who started it and what happened.”

“You don’t see catfish that big anymore, except in Chernobyl.”

“Why did these anarchist women have to write so much?”

“Life is full of  stories. Or maybe life is only stories. Good night, my dear.” 

Author: Mel Hattie

Hi, I’m Mel, blogger and tea sommelier at Mel Had Tea. I love to explore, learn, and meet new people. Nothing inspires me more than reading, traveling the world, talking to strangers, and drinking tea.

What do you think?