"There are many answers, none of them right, but some of them most definitely wrong."
--My Year of Meats
"My name is Nao, and I am a time being." This declaration opens Ruth Ozeki's third novel, A Tale for the Time Being (reviewed on page 14). It is a diary entry written by the young narrator, Nao Yasutani, a troubled, bullied Tokyo teen. "A time being," Nao writes, "is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and everyone of us who is, or was, or ever will be." When Nao's diary washes ashore in British Columbia, safe in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, it is discovered by Ruth, an introspective novelist. As Ruth desperately strives to discover the girl's existence and fate, Ozeki explores the spatial and temporal interconnectedness that links them. "Together we're making magic," Nao writes, "at least for the time being."
Themes of identity, reality, and the connections forged temporally and spatially across the globe, form the metafictional and multigenerational tapestry of A Tale for the Time Being, Ozeki's most autobiographical novel to date. Born in 1956 in New Haven, Connecticut, to an American father and a Japanese mother, Ozeki has, she told Bookmarks, "always had a sense of movement and displacement in my life, a feeling of restlessness." Ozeki, who has lived, traveled, studied, and worked extensively in Asia, Canada, and New York and divides her time between British Columbia and New York--and has made acclaimed independent films, studied Noh drama, worked as a bar hostess in Kyoto's entertainment district, and founded a language school, among other pursuits--wrote herself into the novel. "The book is about displacement," she said. "The characters are displaced in different ways, in space and in time." Like Ozeki, "They're all looking for a way to understand their lives through their relationships with other people and places."
In a greater sense, Ozeki writes about how we create self. "A Tale for the Time Being is very much about identity," Ozeki said. "I've put a fictional version of myself in the book to 'perform' this theme. By appearing on the page as 'myself,' I can fool around with identity in a fun, playful, and personal way. It's kind of a game. These days we spend so much of our time creating semifictional identities for ourselves, representing ourselves over and over, lurking behind avatars and Twitter handles, that our sense of our identity has become somewhat malleable and plastic. I see this as both positive and negative. Notions that were once fixed, like truth or identity, have become more relative, and this can be either...