Monday, February 6, 2017

time being

A Tale for the Time Being is a novel by Ruth Ozeki that I borrowed from my office lending library. It looks like the kind of book that would have been in someone's reading group list of books. As usual, I come to these books late because I'm picking them up used, some years after they were popular. I'm not sure how popular this book was at the time, but it certainly reads like one that would get the attention of book clubs.

I don't think I'm giving anything away when I point out that very quickly in the text, it becomes clear that the phase 'time being' is a double entendre. in fact its noted at the top of the back cover on the paperback I read As soon as I read that, the Zen of this book started kicking in. This book is as much about an interestingly disjointed trans-Pacific relationship, as it is about philosophy. Think Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Yeah, like that.

Ozeki is writing her thoughts about Zen into this storyline, just as Pirsig did in his, but I think Ozeki does a better job of working the teachings into the narrative than Pirsig did in Motorcycle Maintenance. The other difference I'll point out is the story in this book is better too! Ozeki sets up a pattern of switching back and forth between two storylines, narrated by two people on different sides of the ocean. Its a one-sided relationship, and we can't help wondering what will happen next with each of these characters, and their supporting characters.

Its a story of loss, change, caring, moving away and what 'home' means, bullying, nature, war, coming of age, old age, dreams, Japan, suicide, and Zen. Its got a little of everything, and is just riveting.

Ozeki dances us right out to the edge, and teases us with a universe that is larger than we may ever understand, and then grounds us by reminding us that our finger is not the moon, but that they are, still, the same. Just as a man and a wave in the ocean are.

I really enjoyed this story, as a narrative, a conversation between different peoples, and as a primer for understanding eastern philosophy. Ozeki has a keen understanding of people, and does a great job building characters that have weight and depth.

Read this book. Move others out of the way, if needs be.

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