A Tale for the Time Being (2013)

by Ruth Ozeki

Critical Evaluation

“Whenever the word “time” comes up —“wasting time,”“about time,” “in time” — the reader must stop and think about the many angles of approach to that subject in Ruth Ozeki’s delightful yet sometimes harrowing new novel, “A Tale for the Time Being.”

“Ozeki takes on big themes in “A Tale for the Time Being” — not just the death of individuals but also the death of the planet. In doing so, she ranges widely, drawing in everything from quantum mechanics and the theory of infinite possibilities in an infinite number of universes to the teachings of the 13th-century Zen master Dogen Zenji. There’s even a crow with possibly magical powers. All are drawn into the stories of two “time beings,” Ruth and Nao, whose own fates are inextricably bound.”

Downer, Lesley. “Ann Patchett’s Pandemic Novel.” The New Yorker. July 31, 2023.



First Excerpt


“My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

“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 café 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?

“Are you in a New York subway car hanging from a strap, or soaking in your hot tub in Sunnyvale?

“Are you sunbathing on a sandy beach in Phuket, or having your toenails buffed in Abu Dhabi?

“Are you a male or a female or somewhere in between?

“Is your girlfriend cooking you a yummy dinner, or are you eating cold Chinese noodles from a box?

“Are you curled up with your back turned coldly toward your snoring wife, or are you eagerly waiting for your beautiful lover to finish his bath so you can make passionate love to him?

“Do you have a cat and is she sitting on your lap? Does her forehead smell like cedar trees and fresh sweet air?

“Actually, it doesn’t matter very much, because by the time you read this, everything will be different, and you will be nowhere in particular, flipping idly through the pages of this book, which happens to be the diary of my last days on earth, wondering if you should keep on reading.

“And if yo

u decide not to read any more, hey, no problem, because you’re not the one I was waiting for anyway. But if you do decide to read on, then guess what? You’re my kind of time being and together we’ll make magic!”

Second Excerpt

“My old Jiko really likes it when I tell her lots of details about modern life. She doesn’t get out very much anymore because she lives in a temple in the mountains in the middle of nowhere and has renounced the world, and also there’s the fact of her being a hundred and four years old. I keep saying that’s her age, but actually I’m just guessing. We don’t really know for sure how old she is, and she claims she doesn’t remember, either. When you ask her, she says,

“Zuibun nagaku ikasarete itadaite orimasu ne.

“Which is not an answer, so you ask her again, and she says,

“Soo desu ne.19 I haven’t counted for so long . . .

“So then you ask her when her birthday is, and she says,

“Hmm, I don’t really remember being born . . .

“And if you pester her some more and ask her how long she’s been alive, she says,

“I’ve always been here as far as I remember.

“Well, duh, Granny!