There have been, over the course of my life, something close to 20 books where, once the pages in my left hand outweighed those in my right, I froze and almost didn’t want to continue reading. The dread that it will sooner end, that, like reflecting on happy life events, I will have blown too quickly through something I enjoyed so immensely without stopping, holding myself back, to appreciate it, temporarily paralyzed me.
In the end, I began A Tale for the Time Being this past April 17th, and this morning, when I finished it, it was June 11th.
The internet glimmers with fantastic reviews for this book, so–instead–I’m going to just write about how I felt and my general thoughts while I was reading it.
First, although I expected the musings on Buddhism, measuring the microcosmic passage of time and the transpositional nature of the self in any environment, I had no sense of how artfully each of these issues would be revealed in relation to both the “Ruth” and the “Nao” stories. For this ability, to reveal complex and multilayered concepts of reality and morality through simple yet profound plot structures, conflicts and dialog, Ruth Ozeki is my personal hero, and I’d rank A Tale for the Time Being among the pantheon of works that influenced my conscience (/con-science) along with greats like Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Second, the story’s parallel compositions of interior reflection perfectly intertwined Ruth and Naoko’s lives the way Ozeki carefully, and so effortlessly, reached across all of time and space to integrate the whole lives of Old Jiko, Haruki #1 and #2, Oliver and even her mother, Masako. As I read forward, it felt almost impossible that fiction could feel so memorial, that Ozeki could delve so deeply into her characters that she could–admittedly!–learn more about herself than any other. I sat there and read it in wonder.
Lastly, every page of this book felt honest and even words that stopped me in my tracks (‘crepuscular,’ being the most fun example) worked to develop a thoughtful flow of motion, to push and pull your eye across the page without focusing so heavily (or, in this case, needlessly) on the poetic or lyrical flow of elegant pairings or strategically organized phrases (which I also enjoy a lot, but if used would have taken away the honesty of both Nao and Ruth’s thoughts, words and circumstances).
There is no possible way I could recommend this book enough. I plan to read it again a year from now, after lending it to a few close friends and my lovely girlfriend, and tear apart the margins in search of the mystery behind how deeply lovely this book is.