“Together we’ll make magic” probably sums up this entire novel. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is all about the magical interplay of truth and lies, writer and reader, fiction and fact. It is a wonderful novel, difficult to put down and hard to understand.
I can give you the basic story, but it may not make sense. A novelist living on an island off the coast of Western Canada finds a freezer bag washed up on a beach. The bag contains a diary, some letters, a composition book, and a watch. The author of the diary is a young girl living in Tokyo who starts to tell the history of her grandmother, an old zen Buddhist nun. Instead she tells her own difficult story. Interwoven with the diary entries is Ruth’s tale of finding out what happened to the diary writer and if she is still alive. I say “Ruth’s tale” because she (or some form of she) is a character in the novel along with the author’s husband Oliver (also named Oliver in real life).
In the end, she gives us a diversion into quantum physics, which was the only part of the book I felt was lacking. It is like she is trying too hard to tell us what is going on, to wrap up this story with a neat little bow. But Ozeki redeems herself in the Epilogue when the author writes a letter to the young girl diarist. She says “I’d much rather know, but then again, not knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.”
Ultimately when I got to the final page of the book I wanted to go back and start all over again. See what I missed along the way. It is that good.