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Hi, I’m Lauren. The Library will provide books for your book club. Our book club bundles include 10 copies of the same title, along with a discussion guide. Check out available bundles when visiting the Library, or fill out the form below! Patrons can reserve book club bundles up to six months in advance. Our book club bundles are stored on the second floor for the public to browse and check out. Contact us at or call us at 630-232-0780 if you have questions.

A Tale for the Time Being

by Ruth Ozeki

GENRE: Literary Fiction

When the self-written life story of a Japanese schoolgirl washes up on the shore of Canada’s Vancouver Island in a freezer bag, Ruth, a novelist, investigates how the bag traveled from Japan to Canada and why it contains what it does. Told from alternating perspectives of Ruth and Nao, the young girl, this literary novel is smart and thought-provoking.

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author biography

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest, whose books have garnered international acclaim for their ability to integrate issues of science, technology, religion, environmental politics, and global pop culture into unique, hybrid, narrative forms.

Her new novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, forthcoming from Viking in September 2021, tells the story of a young boy who, after the death of his father, starts to hear voices and finds solace in the companionship of his very own book.

Her first two novels, My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003), have been translated into 11 languages and published in 14 countries. Her third novel, A Tale for the Time Being (2013), won the LA Times Book Prize, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and has been published in over thirty countries.

Her work of personal non-fiction, The Face: A Time Code (2016), was published by Restless Books as part of their groundbreaking series called The Face.

Ruth's documentary and dramatic independent films, including Halving the Bones, have been shown on PBS, at the Sundance Film Festival, and at colleges and universities across the country.

A longtime Buddhist practitioner, Ruth was ordained in 2010 and is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation.

She splits her time between Western Massachusetts, New York City, and British Columbia, Canada. She currently teaches creative writing at Smith College, where she is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities in the Department of English Language and Literature.  - Author's website

More titles by this author.



/* Starred Review */ Ozeki has shown herself, in the  novels My Year of Meats (1998) and All over Creation (2003), to be a careful, considerate writer who obviously insists on writing what she wants to write and in the  fashion she prefers. That special care and concern are also detectable in her latest novel, an intriguing, even beautiful narrative remarkable for its unusual but attentively structured plot. Ruth—the  character Ruth—is a writer living in a remote corner of the  Pacific coast of British Columbia who is currently thwarted by writer’s block as she attempts to compose a memoir. One day she finds a collection of materials contained in a lunchbox that has washed up on the beach. As if she has unleashed a magical mist, the items she finds inside, namely a journal and a collection of letters, envelop her in the details—the dramas—of someone else’s life. The life she has stumbled into is that of a Japanese teenager, who, believing suicide is the only relief for her teenage angst, nevertheless is determined, before she commits that final act, to write down the story of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. We go from one story line to the other, back and forth across the Pacific, but the reader never loses place or interest. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The publisher is in love with this novel and will do everything from providing an author tour to presenting extensive radio and online publicity campaigns to bring its virtues to a wide reading audience. -- Hooper, Brad (Reviewed 02-15-2013) (Booklist, vol 109, number 12, p29)

Publisher's Weekly

Ozeki’s absorbing third novel (after All Over Creation) is an extended meditation on writing, time, and people in time: “time beings.” Nao Yasutani is a Japanese schoolgirl who plans to “drop out of time”—to kill herself as a way of escaping her dreary life. First, though, she intends to write in her diary the life story of her great-grandmother Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun. But Nao actually ends up writing her own life story, and the diary eventually washes up on the shore of Canada’s Vancouver Island, where a novelist called Ruth lives. Ruth finds the diary in a freezer bag with some old letters in French and a vintage watch. Ruth’s investigation into how the bag traveled from Japan to her island, and why it contains what it does, alternates with Nao’s chapters. The characters’ lives are finely drawn, from Ruth’s rustic lifestyle to the Yasutani family’s straitened existence after moving from Sunnyvale, Calif., to Tokyo. Nao’s winsome voice contrasts with Ruth’s intellectual ponderings to make up a lyrical disquisition on writing’s power to transcend time and place. This tale from Ozeki, a Zen Buddhist priest, is sure to please anyone who values a good story broadened with intellectual vigor. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency. (Mar. 12) --Staff (Reviewed January 14, 2013) (Publishers Weekly, vol 260, issue 02, p)

Library Journal

Ozeki's beautifully crafted work, which arrives a decade after her last novel, All Over Creation , strives to unravel the  mystery of a 16-year-old Japanese American girl's diary found washed ashore in Whaletown, British Columbia. Born in Sunnyvale, CA, Nao logs her diary entries from Japan since her father returned the family there following the burst of the dot-com bubble. Ozeki creates a host of colorful tales surrounding Nao and her 104-year-old great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun, and great uncle Haruki, who was a kamikaze pilot in World War II. Meanwhile, in Canada, author Ruth and her husband, Oliver, are reading Nao's entries in the year 2012, wondering whether the diary is debris from the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, and whether Nao is still alive. VERDICT Ozeki adeptly intertwines past and present while weaving bits of history into her stories. Topics such as bullying, politics, depression, suicidal tendencies, and Buddhism are explored throughout, and as in previous novels, Ozeki validates her gift for  writing prose that raises thought-provoking issues for  readers to ponder long after finishing the  book. [See Prepub Alert, 9/24/12.]— Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA --Shirley Quan (Reviewed April 15, 2013) (Library Journal, vol 138, issue 17, p76)

Kirkus Reviews

/* Starred Review */ Ozeki's magnificent third novel (All Over Creation, 2003, etc.) brings together a Japanese girl's diary and a transplanted American novelist to meditate on everything from bullying to the nature of conscience and the meaning of life. On the beach of an island off British Columbia's coast, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox containing a stack of letters and a red book. The  book contains 16-year-old Nao's diary, bound within the  covers of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time --and that's no accident, since both funny, grieving Nao and blocked, homesick Ruth are obsessed with time : how it passes, how we live in it. Nao wants to "drop out of time;" so does her father, a computer programmer who spent 10 years in California's Silicon Valley before the dot-com bust apparently sent the  family back to Tokyo and subjected Nao to vicious bullying at school. Ruth moved from New York City to Canada since it was an easier place to care for her sick husband and dying mother but now feels the move was "a withdrawal" and is finding it hard to write. She plunges into Nao's diary, which also includes the stories of her 104-year-old great-grandmother, Jiko, an anarchist and feminist turned Buddhist nun, and Jiko's son Haruki, a philosophy student forced to become a kamikaze pilot during World War II. The letters in the lunchbox are Haruki's, and his secret army diary begins the book's extended climax, which transcends bitter anguish to achieve heartbreaking poignancy as both Nao and Ruth discover what it truly means to be "a time being." Ozeki faultlessly captures the slangy cadences of a contemporary teen's voice even as she uses it to convey Nao's pain and to unobtrusively offer a quiet introduction to the practice and wisdom of Zen through Jiko's talks with her great-granddaughter. The novel's seamless web of language, metaphor and meaning can't be disentangled from its powerful emotional impact: These are characters we care for deeply, imparting vital life lessons through the magic of storytelling. A masterpiece, pure and simple. (Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2013)


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