It's not often a book gets me excited about reading it as soon as I open it, but that's what happened with "A Tale for the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki. Right away, in the first few pages, readers are treated to a unique, young voice. Naoko is contemplative, wiser than she realizes, and speaks without tempering her words. She displays a very stark self-awareness which often caused me to catch my breath.
This novel has so many intricate layers, I know I can't do it justice in this review. A colleague of mine once told me he always loves listening to, performing, and conducting Beethoven's 5th Symphony, even though he's done so countless times. For him, it never gets old or stale. He always hears something new, notices something that gives it even more depth and meaning. I can imagine reading "A Tale for the Time Being" again and again and having this same reaction.
In a way, I think Naoko exemplifies the complexity and full freedom of religion in modern Japanese culture. She isn't overtly religious, but she is very open-minded, which allows her to pull the truths and strength she desperately needs. Naoko's time with her great-grandmother Jiko is profoundly beautiful, and the descriptions of Buddhist traditions and ceremonies are absolutely breathtaking.
Ruth says she "wanted to read at the same rate [Naoko] had lived" and at times found it difficult to resist the temptation to quickly devour the entire story. I definitely shared that feeling! I found myself getting impatient during the scenes with Ruth and Oliver. I just wanted Ruth to get back to reading Naoko's diary. I had to know what happened next!
"A Tale for the Time Being" will appeal to those who enjoy contemporary fiction, those who enjoy a bit of the fantastic with some magical realism, those who like their fiction to be intertwined with science, philosophy, history, and politics. Marcel Proust is quoted in the book: "Every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self." Ozeki explores some thought-provoking angles concerning the importance of the reader to a novel. This novel challenged and stretched my thinking, and I always appreciate that.
This was my first time reading any of Ozeki's books, and I am left with the compulsion to go buy everything she's written. I am certain this novel is going to end up listed as one of the best releases of the year.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.