What I'm Reading: ‘A Tale for the Time Being’

July 31, 2016

Jim Gipe
Kathleen McCartney
This summer, first-year students at Smith College will be reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel A Tale for the Time Being, a 2013 finalist for the Man Booker Prize. Readers learn that "a time being is someone who lives in time," which, of course, we all do; thus, the story themes are universal.

This is a tale of transformation and redemption for three generations of strong women: Nao, an adolescent girl living in Japan, who has written a journal; Ruth, a middle-aged novelist living in the Pacific Northwest, who finds the journal; and Jiko, a Buddhist nun and Nao’s great-grandmother.

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The novel is filled with difficult story lines for Nao. She is ruthlessly bullied by classmates, her great-uncle is forced to serve as a kamikaze pilot, her father attempts suicide several times, and her beloved great-grandmother dies. Yet Nao is never a victim. Early in the novel, she tells the unknown reader of her diary — the author and us — "together we’re making magic."

This book spoke to me as a leader and developmental psychologist because the author constructs a world filled with possibilities. I believe this message will resonate with students as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Kathleen McCartney is president of Smith College.