Tuesday, August 13, 2013
2013 Booker Longlisted: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
A Tale for the Time Being
A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
Narrated by Ruth Ozeki
2013 /Audio 14 hrs and 45 min
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is a very intricate and layered story. I listened to the audio version read by the author.
At first glance this is a coming of age story as told through a diary of a 16 year old Japanese girl, Nao (pronounced Now). The diary is being read by a middle aged female writer from Canada, Ruth, after she found the diary washed up on the shore presumably from the Tsunami several years earlier.
The story alternates between Nao's diary enteries and Ruth's feelings and responses to the entries especially as she begins to feel the need to find out what has happened to Nao and her family. What I liked about this story, was that I was sucked into it from the very beginning and just took the story for face value. I never really thought or picked up on much of the symbolism or play on words. I enjoyed the discourse about some of the Buddist practices as well as the information shared about Nao's uncle - a kamakazi pilot. I found the idea of teenaged bullying in Japan appalling - something I thought only the teenagers in America had to face (boy I am naive). I liked the character building and thought the depiction of the principal characters of the book was drawn very well. Like Ruth, I could not wait to find out what would happen to Nao.
Toward the end of the book, the multiple layers and alternate meanings of some of the aspects of the story finally dawned on me. It was a huge "Ah Ha!" moment when it all came together. I am still trying to figure out if I know how it ended. I know that seems weird, but the manner in which the layers unraveled, could lead each reader to a different conclusion.
As for the audio, Ruth Ozeki did a marvelous job as narrator. I had no problem following the voices of her characters and was impressed that she was able to master the voices so well. Additionally, I would have totally missed one of the keys to the book had I read it instead of listening to it. I would have read the name of our 16 year old protagonist as "Neigh-oh" and not "Now". I am not sure if the print version mentions the pronunciation, but the reader really needs to know her name is Now. However, in the epilogue of the audio book, Ozeki, mentions that the print version and the audio version differ. I now wonder if I would not have enjoyed reading the book more than listening to it. That said, it is a fantastic audio production.
One other thing to mention is the references to animal genitalia. Fellow BookMarkian, Aaron, pointed out in his review and in our opening podcast, the obsession Ozeki has with dog balls and cat butts. I must admit that a couple of the references were quite shocking. However, I don't think I would have noticed all of the references had I not already been hypersensitive to the issue.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable read - one that would be good for book clubs to discuss. I could even see parents and teenagers reading it together as it covers topics of bullying and suicide. However, is A Tale for the Time Being worthy of the Man Booker? Comparing it to the four other long listed titles I have read, I think it has earned its place on the list and I would rather see it win if compared to TransAtlantic or Harvest. That said, it is not in the same league of two time Booker winner Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies or Wolf Hall. I do hope that it makes it to the short list; however, I honestly hope there is a more worthy long listed title that I have yet to read.