Wednesday, March 26, 2014

global reading: A Tale for the Time Being (or: Ozeki, Proust, Past, Present)

This month, I read an amazing book, one of my favourites of the year so far: “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth L. Ozeki.  It’s a story set in 2 worlds: there’s Nao, a sixteen-year-old girl in Tokyo who keeps a diary, and a writer living on an island off British Columbia who finds the diary washed up on shore later in time. It’s a wonderful, complex read, one that touches so many themes. The Guaridan found a good way to give an idea of it in one brief paragraph:
"If a Japanese-American writer who is also a Zen Buddhist priest wrote a post-Japanese tsunami novel, what themes might you imagine she would address? Biculturalism, water, death, memory, the female predicament, conscience, the nature of time and tide? Tick. All there. Throw in the second world war, the reader-writer relationship, depression, ecological collapse, suicide, origami, a 105-year-old anarchist nun and a schoolgirl's soiled knickers, and you have Ruth Ozeki's third novel, A Tale for the Time Being." (Guardian review)
I was so captured by the read that it took me some fifty pages to realize that the names of the writer in the story is identical with the author's name: Ruth. Which made me curious, so i went looking and arrived at this interview with Ruth Ozeki:

The title of the book - “A Tale of the Time Being" - it relates to Dogen, she explained in an interview. The idea behind it: that we are all Time Beings: beings in time. And that we all are interconnected through life, even through time, in unexpected ways.

Following this reflection on time, there's the special book Nao uses as diary: a handmade book from a shop that takes old classics, removes their pages and puts new pages inside. The cover she picked, of all possible ones, is: Proust’s book “Rememberance of Things Past”, or as it is called in the original French: "À la recherche du temps perdu". French, it turns out later, is the language her grandfather used when he wrote his hidden diary while in the army, facing the fate of a kamikaze flyer.

Reading about Nao first writing into Proust and then reading about him brought me back to my own Proust reads - last year that was, in the French Alps, when I read Alain Button's “How Proust can Change your Life”, another book i very much enjoyed. I blogged about it on the road in a short note and an image:


(reading notes to follow. really enjoyed this book, and read it slowly,
so that it accompanied me almost throughout the whole journey)

And here's the "proper" longer after-road book post: Reading on the road in France: How Proust Can Change your Life, One Autumn in Europe, Lost in Translation

But back to the Time Being: one of the images that especially stood out for me in the narrative was the one of the ocean gyres, churning and churning, and in our modern-time, turning to ocean-yards, gathering plastic particles and debris: all those things that end up in the endless ocean gather there, in the end, in watery galaxies. And in an abstraction of that, our time, with the ongoing flow of information, all those news channels and websites, all the news, breaking and breaking endlessly: gyres of information.

Yet sometimes, on a walk along the beach, or along the web, there's this perfect and complete bit of flotsam, and picking it up, we feel it was there, waiting for us, just at the right time: the book we found without looking, the missing bit of information that gives us a different view, the message in a bottle, the line of thought in a blog, in a book....


So glad i came across this book - i arrived at it through one of the #readwomen2014 links, and probably picked up on it as i read about it before, in a fellow blogger's book note who quoted from it in Norway, in January at Snapshots: zuibun nagaku...  - another link i still have about it is this one, from the wordpress reader, a link to a personal review of someone who met Ozeki at a reading: Brunchclub Book Review

Writing about the book to yet another friend in Canada, i learned that Ozeki is a friend of a friend who lives at the end of her road. Big, big, small world. And just some days later, i read a chapter of the Time Being that, of all places in the world, mentions this region here, with the Neckar river and Stuttgart city.

Here’s the passage, with Ruth-in-the-novel having dinner with her partner Oliver. They come to talk about earthquakes, and the Japanese association between catfish and earthquaked that has persisted into modern times. And from Japan, the talk moves to.. Germany. And not just any part of Germany, but Stuttgart and the Neckar river - which both are closeby places, Stuttgart is 30 minutes by car, and the Neckar: a 10 minute walk from this desk.
It was still February, but Oliver was managing to keep them supplied with fresh greens even during the winter months.
“In Stuttgart, where my parents grew up, they had gigantic catfish that lived at the bottom of the river Neckar. Nobody ever saw them except right before an earthquake, when the catfish would rise to the surface…”
Will go now, for that walk to the Neckar river. Meanwhile, here's an ocean walk for you....

...and this final quote, from the start of the book. The one that connects past and future, the you of the reader, the me of the reader:

"Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad Chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you're reading this, then maybe by now you're wondering about me, too. You wonder about me. I Wonder about you. Who are you and what are you doing?"


Currently Reading + More Reads:

For 2014, i didn't join a specific reading challenge, but i try to read books / authors from different countries and continents, and also follow the “readwomen2014” initiative. Here’s more about it: 2014 - year of reading women

For more reading notes in this blog, click here: life as a journey with books- and a reading list by regions is online at: World Reads by country

Other book blog and their current reads: It's Monday! What are you reading? (join by blogging and adding your link)

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