Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Favorite author: Ruth Ozeki (new book coming out!)

In the days before I started blogging and writing book reviews, I read two books by a Japanese-American writer and film maker named Ruth Ozeki: My Year of Meats and All Over Creation. I got to hear her read at my local bookstore, Annie Bloom's, one evening as well, and I found her to be inspiring and eloquent. I named her as one of my "15 writers who have influenced me."

Ozeki is also a Zen Buddhist priest (ordained in 2010) and is the editor of the Everyday Zen website.

I gave both My Year of Meats and All Over Creation five stars on and they were #1 and #2 on my "Best Reads of 2004" fiction list, so as you can imagine I was very excited to read that Ozeki FINALLY has another novel out--to be published in early March. Here's why you should read Ruth Ozeki:

My Year of Meats

My Year of Meats tells two parallel stories: that of documentary film maker Jane Takagi-Little, who is assigned to a new Japanese TV show sponsored by a beef export company, "My American Wife," which shows Japanese housewives how to prepare American meat, and of Akiko Ueno, the wife of the Japanese producer, who is bulimic and deeply unhappy. The story explores Japan's fascination with all things American in addition to the sometimes-harsh reality of being a Japanese housewife. Jane soon uncovers information about the American way of producing meat. It's not pretty. This book contributed to my decision to stop eating red meat many years ago. Some have called it a modern-day Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. You have been warned. As I'm always interested in all things Japan and in particular connections between Japanese and American women, this book is one of my all-time faves. 

All Over Creation

Moving from meat and onto potatoes, this novel takes place on a farm in Idaho, with another Japanese-American protagonist, Yumi Fuller. She hasn't been home for 25 years, but she brings her three children home to her parents' potato farm when they both become ill. She soon becomes enmeshed in the complexities of agribusiness and genetically modified food. This book has a quirky cast of characters, such as a band of activists who travel the country in a van biofueled by french-fry oil and who try to convince her father to stop planting genetically modified crops. Injected with a strong sense of humor, All Over Creation is intelligent, well researched, and heart warming.

A Tale for the Time Being

This new book is what prompted me to write about Ruth Ozeki, who I'd all but forgotten about (All Over Creation was published in 2004 and My Year of Meats in 1998). This is the Goodreads description:
A brilliant, unforgettable, and long-awaited novel from bestselling author Ruth Ozeki
“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.”
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.  
Here's a video of Ozeki talking about our bullying culture, suicide, Buddhism, and how she came up with the idea for this novel:

Early reviews are excellent. Writing about her first two books makes me want to read them again...I don't reread books often (too many new ones to get to). Stay tuned for a review of A Tale for the Time Being! Ozeki is coming to Portland later in March...I hope to be able to go see/hear her again.

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