A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING is an ambitious, vast expanse of a novel about time. It’s time-bending, era-flipping, and an examination of the Buddhist notion of time and what it means for the universe.
The story starts as Ruth (the author) finds an abandoned Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. Inside is several relics, including the the journal of sixteen year old Nao Yasatuni, who writes that the journal is an account of her “last few days on earth” before she kills herself. As Ruth continues to read through the journal, she finds herself drawn further and further into the mystery of Nao and her family.
Nao (pronounced “now” another nod to the theme of the novel) might rank amongst one of my favorite protagonists of all time. Uprooted from her comfortable life in Sunnyvale, CA after the dot-com bubble burst, she returns to Tokyo as a bullied social outcast. But she retains the beautiful resilience that so many children are blessed with, and she’s able to talk about her broken family life and cruel bullying with a kind of chirpy matter-of-factness. She is beautifully designed and rounded.
Half the story is composed of Nao’s diary entries, and the other half details Ruth’s interactions with them. Within the stories, however, is the story of Nao’s 104-year old great grandmother Buddhist nun Jiko, Haruki #1, Nao’s great-uncle who died serving in WW2, as well as the story of Haruki #2, Nao’s father who is left ashamed after being laid off from his Silicon Valley startup. Ozeki is an ordained Buddhist priest, and the novel relies heavily on the Buddhist teachings of time and interconnectedness. All the stories in TIME BEING are intricately connected and beautifully woven, quite a feat when you consider the sheer amount of storytelling that’s taking place.
If you are unfamiliar with quantum physics — like me — certain aspects of the ending can be confusing. But Ozeki and Nao are helpful enough to include a range of appendices to help the reader follow along through some of the scientific jargon.
Overall: I’m so glad I picked up TIME BEING on a whim. It’s such a beautifully crafted story that deserves to be told and shared. It made me cry and laugh out loud, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone I know and I hope you will too!