Critical Commentary: A Tale for the Time Being.

Posted on March 19, 2013 by


Filmmaker and author Ruth Ozeki’s newest piece of work, titled A Tale for the Time Being, has been a work in progress for many years says the author.  The novel was just recently published, March 12, 2013, but has been through multiple rebuilding stages.  The story is about a fictional character, coincidentally named “Ruth”, finding a diary of the life of a 16-year old Japanese-American girl named Nao.  Following both her and Nao’s Japanese heritage, she said the 2011 earthquake and following tsunami forced her to alter her story, admitting that, “the book I had written was no longer relevant”.  Nao’s diary opens with a confession, she reveals to her audience that what they’re reading recaps the last few days of her life, as she is planning on committing suicide.  Ozeki, born in Connecticut to an American father and Japanese mother currently shares citizenship with the U.S. and Canada, but all the while holding firmly to her Japanese roots.  Ozeki, not a well-known author, but rather novelist is credited with writing only two previous pieces of work, her first in 1998 followed by a second novel in 2003.  Before she got into writing, she was an art director and eventually made films of her own.  


Ozeki lived in Japan during the 1980’s and during that time was intrigued about their teenage suicide problem.  She saw the everyday bullying and struggles that people experience.  She has observed the cultural trends between the U.S. and Japan and has since noticed an increase in the States as well.  While she was working as an art director, one of her main areas of expertise was within the horror film industry.  


The reason I’m choosing to write about this novel and in particular this author is that in 2010 Ozeki was ordained as a priest in Zen Buddhism and is also the editor of the Everyday Zen website.  As an ordained priest I do not see the qualities with which I would typically associate with a Zen practitioner.  The qualities that I think a priest would have are not evident in her life, both film and writing.  One example is her fascination with suicide, which is a clear plot line and is told to you from the beginning.  Because I have not read this book, I do not know how big of a role her Buddhist ideals come into play but from the book review Nao writes about a hundred-and-four-year-old Buddhist nun and often discusses the Zen philosophy.  Ozeki also says the story incorporates the idea of time, and of wisdom old and new. 


One important aspect of this book which I find relatable to the “self-identity” of an individual within this religious community is how Ozeki, as an author, has a persuasive voice both within and especially outside the Zen Buddhist community.  I find this important because as a writer, she is able to put herself and her opinions out for others to learn from.  In Ozeki’s case, she not only wrote the book, but put herself in the shoes of the reader and was thus able to show emotions that were previously unknown to others.


If you are interested in reading this book, here is a great recommendation from Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austin Book Club praising the book saying, “it is equal parts mystery and meditation…the meditation—on time and memory, on the oceanic movement of history on impermanence and uncertainty, but also resilience and bravery”. 

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