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A crowd of book-lovers, young and old, in the NCPR studio. Photo: Joel Hurd
A crowd of book-lovers, young and old, in the NCPR studio. Photo: Joel Hurd

Kids talk about "A Tale for the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki

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We have a bit of a tradition here at North Country Public Radio: book reviewer Betsy Kepes brings in a group of Canton H.S. students who have read and talked about a particular book to share their reactions with us.

On May 1, 2014, Betsy led a conversation about A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, a Man Booker Prize finalist in fiction.

Narrated alternately by a teenage girl in Tokyo and a middle-aged writer living on an island off British Columbia, the book explores and connects the themes of time, culture, physics, zen, and bullying.

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Reported by

Betsy Kepes
Book Reviewer


Listen to the entire discussion:

NCPR book maven Betsy Kepes on discussing books with kids, and on A Tale for the Time Being:

I like to read books (obviously) and I’m also a bit of a book crusader. For years I’ve volunteered to sit around a lunch table with fifth graders once a week to talk about books. While the kids eat French toast sticks or school pizza we discuss plot and character. Is Sam’s family really going to live with him up on that mountain in the Catskills? The wordplay in The Phantom Tollbooth made you groan more than laugh? Even when Milo and Tock feasted on synonym buns and ragamuffins?

When my youngest son was a senior in high school he had fond memories of those middle school days of lively book discussion. Let’s do a book group again, he said. And he even suggested a title, David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas. Sounds like fun, I said. After a couple of lunch discussions we brought a van-load of students to the NCPR recording studio and set them in front of microphones. The teens were articulate and wise.

We’ve done it again this year with Ruth Ozeki’s new novel, A Tale for the Time Being, coming into the studio to discuss what makes this book so compelling. Is it the voice of the Japanese teen narrator, Nao? Or the older Japanese-Canadian woman, Ruth, who finds a plastic-wrapped bundle on the beach of her British Columbian island? Opening the Hello Kitty lunchbox, Ruth unwraps Nao’s journal and the two are connected. Nao writes, “I’m reaching forward through time to touch you… you’re reaching back to touch me.”

A Tale for the Time Being explores time and fiction and fact through prose that is rich and personable and never quite predictable. With a cast that includes a suicidal teen and her suicidal father, a 104-year-old Buddhist nun, a kamikaze pilot, a discouraged writer and her scientist husband, a missing cat and a mysterious Japanese crow, Ozeki’s new book is difficult to categorize. David Ulin on the Los Angeles Times calls it “an exquisite novel: funny, tragic, hard-edged and ethereal at once.”

Have you read it? And what did you think?

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