My Review of Ruth Ozeki’s Semi-Novel A Tale for the Time Being

Content Warning: Mentions of Suicide

A semi-novel by Ruth Ozeki, this story borders the line between fiction and reality—in the most exciting way.

A writer named Ruth—living on a jungle island off of Canada with her husband Oliver (all true to real life)—discovers a package washed up on her shore of the Pacific Ocean (not true). In it are the diary entries and small mementos of a girl in Tokyo named Nao, and they were most likely in Ruth’s hands now because of the 2011 tsunami. Ruth finds herself completely captivated by the diary, and by the girl. In fact, Nao’s story changes her forever.

Sunset Ocean Beach Sky Evening

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book because it is SO worth reading. I will tell you, however, its effect on me. It battled with big questions like existentialism, spirituality, technology, and social life at all ages. It taught me a lot about Japanese culture, in ways I may have never known otherwise. It exposed a lot of sensitive situations, which was uncomfortable but it took some of their power away. It made me think about things I’d been too afraid to really think about before. 

This book gives the reader no choice but to grow alongside its main characters—Nao through her writing, and Ruth through her reading. You will not be quite the same after following both women through this journey. At least, I wasn’t.

What I learned from this book felt personal, and I’m sure it is a little different for everyone who reads it. For me, there were a couple of big takeaways; one was the concept of being present, feeling every tiny beat within a moment, and the great value that lies within. This was a skill that Nao acquired from her Zen Buddhist nun great-grandmother, which was beautiful to witness. It was described so carefully and humbly. 

Another big takeaway for me was the concept of suicide—or more specifically, why it’s worth it not to. I feel like I’d always really hoped that I never did that, and I feared reaching that point. But this book brought me to a conclusion: Life is hard, and suicide is easy. I want to work hard and feel alive, instead of taking the easy route and feeling dead. Is that wrong to say?

Clearly, this book touched on some serious things for me. They were coincidentally things I had been thinking about for a while, but maybe that wasn’t a coincidence—I guess I saw what I needed to in the pages of this book.

And I think that’s why it’s so powerful, because it would have the same effect on any open-minded reader. For that reason, and many others, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.


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