Audiobook Review & 2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: A Tale For The Time Being

15811545Rating: 4.5
A Tale for the Time Being
A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
Audiobook Narrated by Ruth Ozeki 2013 /14 hours and 45 minutes

I’m not sure where to begin.

This is one of those novels that you finish and look around, blinking, just a little stunned that you’re no longer in the author’s world.  If you pick up this 2013 Man Booker shortlisted title, I promise that you will feel submerged by the tale.  You won’t be the same when it’s complete.  You’ll want it to win the prize.

I’m sure you’ve heard what this novel is about.  A 16-year old girl in Tokyo starts a journal, and pens an unflinching look at her life.  A writer on an isolated Canadian island finds that journal, along with other items, on the shore near her home.  By reading this teen’s heartbreaking story, the writer, named Ruth, breathes life into this lost soul across the ocean.  The Japanese girl, Nao, is suicidal.  Her home life is a disaster.  Her school days are packed with the most inhuman classmates your mind can fathom.  Her only solace is her darling 104-year old great-grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist Monk who sweetly and patiently shares her benevolent wisdom.  As the story of Nao’s life unfolds in her journal, Ruth slowly but surely becomes frantic in her wish to help.  She wants to know if Nao is all right.  But how?  Was this journal swept to Ruth’s shore by the 2011 tsunami?  How can she know if Nao finds help?  Finds support?  Will Nao find her own “Super Power” with the help of her great-grandmother?  Most importantly, is Nao alive?

There’s only one thing that Ruth can do.  She must keep reading.

Incredibly, A Tale For The Time Being encompasses bullying, loneliness, Zen Buddhism, writer’s block, the afterlife, War, Alzheimer’s, the environment, the metaphysical world and quantum physics.  You might reread that list, thinking “that can’t be right – how many books did Elizabeth actually read here?”  But it does cover everything I’ve listed.  And all of this is masterfully shared by the author.

It’s been awhile since I’ve jumped into a story with this much emotion.  No – I didn’t jump in – I did a cannonball.  This Shortlisted novel will have you gasping for air.  It seamlessly moves back and forth from Ruth’s life to Nao’s, while simultaneously leading you down a path of enlightenment.  You’ll come away with a renewed faith in the power of the human spirit, and dare I say that you’ll want to crack down on school bullying?  My guess is that you will.

I must warn you though, that there are portions of this novel that are not easy to digest.  On more than one occasion, I listened to the story with a wince.  But as raw as this novel can be, the truth is that there’s no escaping the truths that it shares.  From Nao’s experiences as a teen to the unwavering look back to her great uncle’s time as a kamikaze pilot during the war, you will not come away unscathed.  It will be difficult, but you’ll be a better person for hearing their stories.

What’s remarkable about this novel is that its spirit reaches through the muck and hurt, and presents a bright spot of hope.  You will not finish this book with sad or resentful feelings.  After reading the stories of Nao and Ruth and their families, you’ll realize that not only is everything real, but it is also all linked. Because what simmers underneath this tale is a mystic force that you’ll wonder about long after you’ve left the last page.  It’s the shadow you thought you saw, but upon looking directly, could no longer find. You know it’s there though, and you believe in your heart that it’s watching over you.

People touch people.  We are all spinning on the same planet.  Some of us are trying to “bully a wave.” Others are trying to understand how to live in harmony with the rough water.  No matter your background, this is a novel that is worth your time.  It’s something that I believe that I will revisit one day.  And when I do, I can’t wait to hear Jiko’s words with fresh ears.

If you have the opportunity to listen to the audiobook version of this novel, please jump at the chance. The words are read by the author herself, and her narration is perfect throughout.

4.5 stars for A Tale For The Time Being.



Audiobook Review & 2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: A Tale for the Time Being

15811545Rating: 5
A Tale for the Time Being
A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
Audiobook Narrated by Ruth Ozeki 2013 /14 hours and 45 minutes

My first ever 5-star Man Booker nominated book!  A Tale for the Time Being (audiobook) was absolutely fantastic. Stunning. Remarkable. Most assuredly one of the best audiobooks and stories I’ve read this year. I was completely and utterly invested in this story, in the characters and in the tremendous creativity and ingenuity of this multi-layered tale.

The audio narration of this ingenious story is something that I cannot simply explain to you how amazing it was. To hear Ozeki breath the life and soul in to each and every one of her characters as she intended the reader to understand them, was an incredible listening pleasure. Each voice was distinct and I found myself arriving at work late every day so I wouldn’t have to stop the audio, I found myself driving an extra 20 minutes on the commute home, I even took to leaving for lunch to just drive around and hold on here…. at one point I even strapped on the running shoes to go for a run (!!) all just so I did not have to end my time spent with Nao and Ruth, and Old Jico, Oliver and Haruki #1, the inhabitants of the island where Ruth & Oliver lived, etc. That my friends is sound and genuine proof that A Tale for the Time Being is a stellar 5-star read.

While I was initially shocked to see this not make the Giller Prize Longlist this year, I believe I now understand the judges point of view, or supposed point of view – it has already been Longlisted and Shortlisted (and fingers crossed the winner) of the Man Booker Prize and perhaps hoping to not see a repeat of a “Hilary Mantel” occurrence where everyone is shut out as she takes home every single literary prize, such as what occurred last year. Although, the judging panel for the Gillers’ this year described their Longlist choices:

“These are essential stories. Each of these novels and story collections offer a glimpse of who we are, who we might be. Whether set in postwar  Vienna, or 1970s Montreal, contemporary Afghanistan or Newfoundland, each of  these books took us out of ourselves to places that were at times  uncomfortable, at times exhilarating.”

I believe A Tale for the Time Being wonderfully and undeniably achieves this as well, but do seem to understand the decision to allow other and deserving authors their chance to shine.

A Tale for the Time Being encompasses an extraordinary myriad of topics, and initially you are left to wonder if it would be an enjoyable read, or if it would be overly ambitious and leave the reader confused and lost . But no, Ozeki has brilliantly inter-weaved quantum physics, time, longing, bullying, suicide, prostitution, depression, environmental art and environmental destruction, connection, globalization (among others) with astonishingly original stories. In one book all of this incorporated in to two diaries, letters, emails, unfinished memoirs and recounts the lives of a multitude of characters struggling with, at times, very connected and similar feelings. It’s amazing. It’s breathtaking. And I honestly shed a tear when my time with Ruth & Oliver and Nao & Jico & Haruki #1 came to an end.

Many times throughout the story, the “Jungle Crow”, which is native to Japan, is featured throughout each of Ruth’s chapters. I could not shake the feeling that this particular jungle crow inhabiting Ruth’s island, as she was reading and piecing together the story of this 16-year-old Japanese girl, was actually Nao visiting/protecting/watching Ruth. After finishing, I took the time to look up the jungle crow and came across this fascinating blog about the crow and its meaning in Japanese culture. According to this blog, the crow has a cultural significance of being a protector.

The crow also makes up a part of one of the mythological creatures found in Japanese Shintoism and Buddhism, the Crow Tengu…Tengu protect the Dharma, or Buddhist law against transgressors of the Dharma…Tengu have a variety of supernatural powers that they use to play these tricks on people including:  shape-shifting to human or animal forms, speaking without moving their mouths, moving instantly from place to place and being able to invade people’s dreams.


With my every wish, I want A Tale for the Time Being to win the 2013 Man Booker Prize. After completing and posting my initial (gushing love) thoughts about it (and tweeting my love to Ms. Ozeki) I’ve discovered, based on feedback received, that I am so not alone in this wish.