A Tale for the Time Being

Ruth Ozeki, Author
Ruth Ozeki. Viking, $27.95 (420p) ISBN 978-0-670-02663-0
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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)
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