A Tale for the Time Being is a tale about everything. From the Second World War to Japanese tsunami and from quantum physics to Zen and the meaning of life.
Ruth Ozeki is a Japanese – American writer, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest. A Tale for the Time Being is a post-Japanese tsunami novel, a strange, complex, dramatic and humorous at the same time, narrative that touches several issues. Bi-culturalism, diversity, depression, bulling, isolation, suicide, global warming, the ethical aspects of technology. It is a novel about time and impermanence, about how certain kind of issues and problems are cycled back through time, about the ways we are all connected.
The character Ruth, a writer who lives with her husband Oliver in an isolated island in British Columbia, is trying to write a memoir but she is failing to do so because she is distracted by a diary she finds washed ashore some years after the 2011 tsunami. The diary that is written in an old volume titled À la recherche du temps perdu, belongs to Nao, a depressed, suicidal teenager that lives with her family in Tokyo.
Hi!…My name is Nao, and I’m a time being. Do you know what a time being is?…
Ruth becomes obsessed with Nao’s story and starts searching for evidence that Nao and her family are real or still alive. Nao had lived in Silicon Valley until the burst of the Dot-Com bubble sends her family back to Tokyo without a dollop of savings or self-worth. Feeling foreign and detached, brutally bullied by her classmates, isolated from her parents who are dragging their own weighty hopelessness and shame, she is “floating about on the stormy sea of life”.
Nao’s only friend is the old Jiko, her 104 years old great-great mother, an “anarchist-feminist-novelist-turned-Buddhist-nun,” who lives in her temple in Sendai, where the 2011 tsunami struck, sweeping most of the district out to sea. Jiko with her wisdom conveyed through the essence of Dogen’s teachings, helps Nao to ease her confusion and pain and to develop a sense of confidence and faith to herself.
The book is a dialogue, a conversation between the writer and the reader that extends thro
ugh time and space and, in a way, defines their perspective on life.
How cool is that? It feels like I’m reaching forward through time to touch you, and now that you’ve found it, you’re reaching back to touch me!
Zen philosophy is central in the book, it gives us an opportunity to look at our own mindsets and points of view. Everything is interconnected through an invisible web of stories that travel across time and space. Time and space fluctuate between different levels of existence accommodating the possibility of different realities, but the emphasis on the present moment is perhaps the book’s most distinctive characteristic. Viewed from that point of view, the Tale for Time Being, is a tale about the importance of living in the present moment.