Ruth Ozeki’s recent novel, the 2013 Man Booker-shortlisted “A Tale For the Time Being,” is best described as a hybrid: a fictional masterpiece with footnotes and appendices like a research paper; a colorful scrawl of inventive creativity marked by scientific asides ranging from ocean gyres to quantum mechanics; a playful meta-fiction, the memoir Ozeki never wrote — an unforgettable Zen collusion of time and space housed within a paper shell.
In defying simple classification, the novel becomes a metaphor for Ozeki herself. As her character Jiko might say, someone neither this nor that, “not same not different.” Ozeki calls it a “hyphenated identity.” “I’m half Japanese, half Caucasian-American ethnically or racially, but my citizenship is Canadian/American so it gets even more complicated,” she says during in a recent interview. “And in terms of my profession, I am a novelist/ filmmaker, and a Buddhist priest as well. In stacking these identities on top of each other, I now view this as very enriching and natural. I think most people have much more complex identities than what first appears. We are really fixated on specifying our identity in this culture and this age we are in, but identity is actually very complex.” Much like Ozeki’s bestselling novels.