For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013
Ruth finds a Japanese teenage girl’s diary on the beach of the quiet island she struggles to call home. But the chatty, chaotic and fearless way the book is written sweeps Ruth completely away, she just can not ignore it. She learns about the girl’s (Nao) struggle to adapt to Japan after growing up in the USA, her father’s deep depression and her heroic great gran, a feisty feminist Zen Buddhist priest that teaches her how to still her mind and find her power.
A story about time, how you use it and how it goes on a journey and takes you along with it, whether you acknowledge it or not.
What a nutty way to start a book.
Especially a book shortlisted alongside Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries for the Man Booker prize. Or so I thought. It was awkward and rambling and almost like a Dawson’s Creek episode, which in retrospect is perfect. Nao introduces herself and you have an unfiltered look inside her teenage brain. This took me a few pages to get settled in and I’d never think that I would connect so deeply with the characters.
That’s why you have to completely forget that ‘it’s a story about a teenage girl’s diary’ – to describe it like that would be complete undersell – its like describing The Matrix as a cool martial arts film.
In between the Breakfast Club type thoughts, you start to understand her, smile with her and empathise with her seemingly unending challenges. But it’s not just Nao’s story, it’s also the story of Ruth’s complicated yet simple life on her island. To be honest, the book needs Ruth for balance and contrast, to bring a bit of Alternative to the Pop.
But the real character for me is the feisty Zen Buddist nun and feminist poet, Nao’s 104 year old great grandmother. She’s dishes out Buddhist advice while she pickles and gives Nao’s little tasks that mean a lot in hindsight, kinda like mr Miyagi but she’s got a cellphone handy to answer any burning existential questions in the middle of the night.
A charming book to read when you want to make sense of the world but at the same time would hate to have someone give you dr Phil style advice. Perfect for a vacation taken on your own to somewhere in the middle of nowhere with your dog and your camera.
Soak it up, you’ll want to read this again.