A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Viking • $27.95 • ISBN 9780670026630
On sale March 12, 2013

Magical, playful, inventive and compelling, Ruth Ozeki's third novel arrived like a breath of fresh air on my desk. A Tale for the Time Being entwines the stories of a Japanese teenager, Nao, and a middle-aged Japanese-Canadian author named Ruth. Nao, who is 16 and something of a loner, is writing down the story of her 104-year-old grandmother in a diary—a diary that Ruth discovers when it washes up,  preserved in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, on the shore of the Canadian island she lives on with her husband Oliver. They wonder: Is it flotsam or jetsam? (Precision is important to Ruth.) Detritus from the 2011 tsunami, or a message in a bottle? From the first page of the diary, Ruth is captivated by Nao's voice, and determined to uncover her fate.

Ozeki uses this intriguing premise to explore the reader-writer relationship and the interconnectedness of human life. But this is a novel to be enjoyed as much for its graceful writing and vivid characters as its provocative ideas.  Here, Ruth opens the diary for the first time:

Print is predictable and impersonal, conveying information in a mechanical transaction with the human eye.

Handwriting, by contrast, resists the eye, reveals its meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin.

Ruth stared at the page. The purple words were mostly in English  with some Japanese characters scattered here and there, but her eye wasn't really taking in their meaning so much as a felt sense, murky and emotional, of the writer's presence. The fingers that had gripped the purple gel ink pen must have belonged to a girl, a teenager. Her handwriting, these loopy purple marks impressed onto the page, retained her moods and anxieties, and the moment Ruth laid eyes on the page, she knew without a doubt that the girl's fingertips were pink and moist, and that she had bitten her nails down to the quick.

What are you reading this week?

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