Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Book Review

Today I have an in-depth but spoiler-free review of A Tale For The Time Being for you. If you've read this book, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments about the things I've discussed here.

The Plot

One day, as she's walking along the beach, Ruth stumbles upon a strange package that has washed ashore. Inside, she finds the diary of a 16-years old Japanese girl. And thus, as she starts to read the diary, we discover through Ruth's eyes the story of this young girl called Nao.

** Despite the author and the character of Ruth sharing the same name and profession, this is not actually an autobiography.**

Illustration of Nao's Hello Kitty lunchbox swept away by the sea by Adam Fisher and found here

My Review

The Story

This book is very character-driven, relying more on character development than actual plot to move the story along. But despite the sparse elements of action, the narrative thread unfolded in a really nice pacing. 

Though the book has a few dark passages, the general narrative voice is often very witty and light. While you may not laugh aloud at every page, you will find yourself chuckling every now and then. Though it has a lot of dramatic elements, it's not a depressing book at all.

The Characters

Nao, the young girl writing in the diary, is by far my favorite character in the book. She narrates her story in a straightforward voice, occasionally laced with teen sarcasm and fantasy. Her playful way of going about her otherwise rather dramatic story often makes you wonder whether or not she's being entirely honest with you. Yet, while Nao isn't the most reliable of narrators, she certainly has one of the most interesting narrative voices in the book.

While I devoured the chapters narrated by Nao, I found those from Ruth's POV a bit slow. Her chapters were interesting enough but I just couldn't really connect with her character.

I loved reading about Nao's family and while her parents were hardly a happy duo, it was very interesting to read about them. However, when it comes to Ruth's side of the story, the cast of secondary characters were just okay. I could see why their presence in Ruth's story was relevant but I just didn't find them particularly interesting. Pesto the grumpy cat was probably the most interesting side character from Ruth's storyline. 
Ruth and Nao. Original illustration found here.

Another of my favorite characters though is Nao's great-grandmother, an old Japanese nun named Jiko. She is a fascinating character and the coolest nun I've ever read about, not that I read lots of books about nuns or anything. Despite being supposedly "104 years old", she really gets Nao in a way the girl's own parents can't. The parts where she dispersed cryptic but soothing words of advice to Nao were among my favorites. 

My second favorite narrator in this book was Haruki #1, Nao's great-uncle and Jiko's son, who died during WWII. Though we don't get to read about his thoughts and confessions until later in the book, these passages were really well-written and were among my favorites.

The Prose

The book has a light but well-written prose. Ozeki's writing flows pleasantly while being to the point, sparing the reader from overly lavish descriptions and unnecessarily complex sentences. She manages to make you both gasp and chuckle without going over the top with her prose. And yet, her writing is such that after a little while, you'll find it harder and harder to put down the book.

The Ending 

While Nao's diary doesn't quite give us a definitive conclusion to her story, we do get a few hints from other sources as to what happened to her following what we've discovered in the pages she wrote. So, while the ending does retain some level of mild ambiguity, it remains overall quite satisfying. 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

The only things I didn't quite like in the book were Ruth's weird dream sequences. They just felt too weird and out of place. It was like quietly reading about mysterious diaries and Japanese nuns and have Haruki Murakami suddenly sneak up on you with lots of weirdness. Dream sequences are actually among my reading pet peeves because often, they don't quite add to the story. Except for that though, this book was really good and I'd fully recommend it.

Giveaway reminder

I hope you guys enjoyed this review. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments! Also, I'd like to quickly remind you of the giveaway I'm currently hosting. If you haven't entered the giveaway yet, you can do so by clicking here. Good luck!


  1. I've been seeing this cover on blogs a lot lately, but I never knew what it was about. Nice review, I especially like how you added the artwork. It was a nice touch.

  2. Jiko was my favorite, too! I mean I would have loved this book to pieces anyway but Jiko was wonderful. I will also admit to crying when I finally got to read Haruki #1's letters.

    Ozeki's ability to shift into a number of different voices throughout the book is what impressed me the most, though. Even with people who can write really well, it can be really difficult to changes voices and style like that. Ozeki did it flawlessly.

    1. I agree :) This is one of the rare books that I read where the change from one POV to another was done so smoothly.

  3. I haven't heard of this book before, but it sounds interesting. I am a very character driven reader, so I don't mind if the plot is not too busy and we are seeing more of the characters and their development. It really seems like Nao and her point of view was the head of the show for this book! I am glad to hear you could enjoy learning from her writing like that. It's more of a shame of not being able to connect with Ruth, but I hope her character develops as she reads along the diary!

    1. I think you would indeed enjoy this book. It was one of the best character-driven books I've ever read :)