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Tag: A Tale for the Time Being

Ghosts of the Tsunami

Photo credit: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord, 3/18/2011. Creative Commons.

Much has been said of the impact of the March, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, as well as the consequent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The event wrought massive destruction and caused upwards of 15,000 casualties. Many affected cities and towns still have not recovered, almost three years later. Ruth, in A Tale for the Time Being, worries that her invisible correspondent-through-the-ages, 16 year old Nao, has met her fate in the tsunami; Ruth’s fears were echoed, and are still echoed, by people across the world whose friends and family were in Japan at the time of the disaster. According to the National Police Agency of Japan, 2,640 people across the country are still missing and unaccounted for.

Photo credit: Petty Officer First Class Matthew Bradley, US Navy, 3/15/2011. Creative Commons.

Less has been said, however, about the harm done to Japan’s social and spiritual life. As Richard Lloyd Parry points out in his recent essay “Ghosts of the Tsunami,” Japanese culture traditionally focuses on the spirits of dead ancestors, who often play a relatively active role in the spiritual life of a family or an individual. With so many dead in one fell swoop, what happens to those who are left alive? And what happens to the spirits?

“I met a priest in the north of Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami,” begins Lloyd Parry’s essay, and from there he embarks on a journey through Japan’s spiritual landscape, which was no less shaken by the tsunami than the buildings and houses and streets. Between dead ancestors with no one to care for them and survivors forced to leave their ancestors behind as they fled their homes exists an ocean of grief. “Ghosts of the Tsunami” attempts to navigate this ocean.

You can read Richard Lloyd Parry’s “Ghosts of the Tsunami” here on the London Review of Books website.

As a reminder, we are still accepting nominations for the 2014-25 Go Big Read selection.  Our theme this year is “service,” and you can read more here about what we’re looking for. If you have a book in mind that might fit the theme, let us know. The nomination deadline is February 1st, so hurry!

Using the book in the spring?

Instructors! Are you planning to use A Tale for the Time Being in your spring courses? Do you want your students to be able to access the book for free? If so, fill out our request form and we’ll add you to our list of participating courses for the spring.

For students in spring courses, we send out vouchers that can be redeemed at six campus libraries (Chemistry Library, College Library, Ebling Library, Memorial Library, Steenbock Library and Wendt Commons) for free copies of the book. If you need us to send you hard copies of the book for your teaching assistants, or if you need your own desk copy, you can indicate so in the request form.

If you’re still not sure whether you’ll use A Tale for the Time Being this spring, don’t worry! Just send us an email (gobigread at to request a free review copy.

Goodreads Interview with Ruth Ozeki

In case you haven’t gotten enough Ruth Ozeki yet, check out this awesome interview with our Go Big Read author! Goodreads readers submitted questions about A Tale for the Time Being, and Ruth Ozeki sat down with the interviewers to chat about the book, her writing process, her concepts of reality and fiction, self, creativity and everything in between. Below, a few quotations worth thinking about:

feeling is that as a person, as a storyteller, I want to be very
careful with the kinds of things I put into the world. I want to make
sure that I am writing from a place of integrity, whatever that might
mean. For me, it means that I am writing in the most honest way I know.
And that doesn’t mean telling the truth.

books grow out of my preoccupations. So I am a being in time, and
things are happening in the world around me, and I read about them or
experience them and react to them. I become interested, I start to
investigate, I ponder them. In a way, the writing of a novel is less
about telling a specific story and more about allowing a process of
inquiry to shape what happens on the page. These events will happen in
the world, they’ll enter my mind, I’ll start to think about them, and
the juxtapositions will somehow start to generate story. At that point
my job is just to follow that.

books grow out of my preoccupations. So I am a being in time, and
things are happening in the world around me, and I read about them or
experience them and react to them. I become interested, I start to
investigate, I ponder them. In a way, the writing of a novel is less
about telling a specific story and more about allowing a process of
inquiry to shape what happens on the page. These events will happen in
the world, they’ll enter my mind, I’ll start to think about them, and
the juxtapositions will somehow start to generate story. At that point
my job is just to follow that.

Has your appetite been whetted? Head over to Goodreads for the full interview.

Guest Post: Reflections on the Nov. 14 talk by Professor Gene Phillips

It was enlightening to see the concept of Zen Buddhism depicted in
images at the talk by Professor Gene Phillips (Professor in the
Department of Art History; Director of the Center for East Asian
Studies). One of the things that Professor Phillips discussed was how
Zen monks in medieval Japan were commissioned to paint inspirational ink
images based on koans (questions that a Zen Buddhist master gives to
his disciples in order to help them understand the concepts of “mu”
[nothingness, emptiness] and the universe’s fundamental non-duality,
which leads them to enlightenment: the goal, the ultimate state of mind,
in Buddhism).

To learn more, see Professor Phillips’s book, The Practices of Painting in Japan, 1475-1500.

Photo by Hiromi Naka, Japan Outreach Specialist, the Center for East Asian Studies

Ayako Yoshiumra, the Center for East Asian Studies

Guest Post: How to Read a Book

A Tale for the Time Being invites us to read in a slightly
different way than many of us are used to. 
Not only does the book alternate between two narrators, but when we read
Nao’s diary, we’re reading it as annotated by Ruth, whose chapters are told from in the third-person voice.  It took me a while to realize that the
footnotes in Nao’s diary are written as though they were written by the
character Ruth, not the author Ruth.

If you’re interested in other approaches to reading, you may want to listen to
the November 24, 2013, edition of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge.  The Nov 24 show is all about “How to Read a Book.” Hearing Billy Collins’ read his poem “Reader,” immediately made me think
of Tale.  There’s also an interview with an author who
wrote a novel which features another novel written in the margins of the book,
among other thought-provoking segments.

Beth Harper
Reference Librarian, Memorial Library

Go Big Read Films and Visual Resources

I would like to recommend some visual resources from our campus
libraries that relate to this year’s Go Big Read book, A Tale for the
Time Being

Documentary films about Kamikaze Pilots:

The Last Kamikaze: Testimonials from WWII Suicide Pilots

(streamed online; UW login needed)

Wings of Defeat (DVD)
(D792 J3 W56 2007)

Zen Buddhism:
Erleuchtung Garantiert (Enlightenment Guaranteed) (DVD)
(PN1997 E723 2000)
middle-aged German brothers travel to Japan in search of inner peace.
But many obstacles await them. Will they find the key to enlightenment?

Zen (DVD)
(BQ9449 D657 Z46 2011)
This recent feature film, starring the famous kabuki actor Kankuro Nakamura VI, relates the biography of the Zen master Dogen, who figures prominently in Ozeki’s book.

One Precept: Zen Buddhism in America

(streamed online; UW login needed)

Funeral Rites in Japan:
Departures (Okuribito) (DVD)
(PN1997.2 O387 2009)
of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this film
chronicles an ex-cellist’s transition to a new life as a mortician in
his hometown in the Tohoku region of Japan.

Ayako Yoshimura
Japanese Studies Collection Assistant

Interview with Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney

Did you miss seeing Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney discuss her book Kamikaze Diaries at Central Library on Tuesday? If so, don’t worry! Check out this interview with Professor Ohnuki-Tierney, filmed at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2010.  

Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers is one of the texts used by Ruth Ozeki in her research for A Tale for the Time Being, and details the lives and deaths of Japanese students drafted as kamikaze pilots during World War II.

Thanks to Laurie Wertmer of the Memorial Library Reference Department for finding this video for us!

“Zen and the Arts” at the Kohler Art Library

On November 14, the following books will be featured in an
informal table display at the Kohler Art Library. They are meant to complement Professor Gene Phillip’s
lecture: “Zen Buddhism: an Art Historian’s Perspective” which is scheduled for 6:00
pm in L140 Elvehjem Building as part of the Go Big Read program.Containing wonderful
examples of Zen painting, calligraphy, ceramics, sculpture, and architecture, the
books were selected by Lyn Korenic, Director, Kohler Art Library.

The art of twentieth-century Zen: paintings and calligraphy by Japanese masters /
Audrey Yoshiko Seo. Boston: Shambhala, 1998.

Oversize ND 1457 J32 L63 1998

The art of Zen:
paintings and calligraphy by Japanese monks, 1600-1925
/ Stephen Addiss. 
NY: H.N. Abrams, 1989.
Oversize ND 2071 A328 1989

Awakenings: Zen figure painting in medieval Japan / Naomi Noble Richard and Melanie B. D. Klein. NY: Japan Society; New Haven: Yale
University Press, c2007.

Oversize ND 2071 A98 2007

Daitokuji: the visual
cultures of a Zen monastery
/ Gregory P. A. Levine. Seattle: University of
Washington Press, c2005.
N 8193.3
Z46 L48 2005

Japan and the West: the filled void / Stephen Addiss et al.
Wolfsburg: Kunstmuseum
Wolfsburg ; Köln : DuMont, c2007.

Oversize N 7429 J36 2007

Japanese ink paintings from American collections: the Muromachi period : an exhibition in honor of Shūjirō Shimada /
Yoshiaki Shimizu and Carolyn Wheelwright.
Princeton, NJ: Art Museum, Princeton University, c1976.
Oversize ND 2071 J36

Kamakura, zen no genryūwa; Kamakuara: the art of Zen Buddhism.
Tokyo: Tokyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan, 2003.

Oversize N 8193 J3 K36 2003

“Kyōto Gozan Zen no bunka” ten: Ashikaga Yoshimitsu roppyakunen goki kinen = Zen
treasures from the Kyoto Gozan temples.
 Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2007.

N 8193.3 Z46 J35 2007

Sengai: master Zen painter / Shōkin Furuta. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2000.
ND 1059 S45 F87 2000

Song of the brush:
Japanese paintings from the Sansō Collection
/ John M. Rosenfield. Seattle:
Seattle Art Museum, c1979.
Oversize ND 2071 S36 1979

Zen and the fine arts
/ Shin’ichi Hisamatsu. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1971.

N 8193.3 Z4 H513

Zen Buddhist landscape arts of early
Muromachi Japan (1336-1573)
/ Joseph D. Parker. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, c1999.
NX 676.3 Z45 P36 1999

Zen painting /
Yasuichi Awakawa. Tokyo: Kodansha
International, 1977.
ND 197 A9413 1977

Zenga, brushstrokes
of enlightenment
/ John Stevens. New Orleans, LA: New Orleans Museum of
Art, 1990.
Oversize ND 2071 Z47 1990

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney at Central Library, 11/12

Kamikaze Diaries by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney

If you attended Ruth Ozeki’s talk on October 28, you may have heard her mention Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney.  Ohnuki-Tierney wrote Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers and Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, which Ozeki used for her research for A Tale for the Time Being.  In her interview with NPR, Ozeki says in reference to Cherry Blossoms:

It was a collection, a study of the diaries of the kamikaze pilots who had been conscripted from Japan’s top universities. So these were the young, bright minds of Japan, and these men, these young men, were beautiful writers. And they wrote these just heartbreaking letters and diaries….Many of them did not want to participate in this at all but, you know, the situation was hopeless — there was no option for conscientious  objection, for example — so they were forced into this, accompanied by an enormous amount of angst. And so I think the idea for those three characters came from this reading and studying that I was doing.

If you are interested in learning more about the experiences of the Japanese soldiers, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney will be at the Central Library, 201 Mifflin St. on Tuesday, November 12 at 7:00 pm. Ohnuki-Tierney is the William F. Vilas Professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Lisa, Librarian at Madison Public Library – Central Library

The Lasting Impact of Nao’s Tale

After Ruth Ozeki’s presentation last week, it is important to remember that Go Big Read book selections continue
to have a lasting impact on our campus. A Tale for the Time Being has
become a platform for positive campus-wide discussion around mental health
issues and suicide, something that Ozeki herself hoped would happen. These
conversations raise awareness and serve as reminders to take care of ourselves
and our community. One student has chosen to share personal reactions to the
book from the perspective of someone who has struggled with anxiety and
suicidal thoughts. This student’s story reminds us that while Nao is a
fictional character, her experiences are certainly very real for many young
adults. This student story also speaks to the message that seeking help changes
lives for the better.

If you or a friend is struggling,
call University Health Services at (608) 265-5600, select option 9
for our 24-hour mental health crisis line. Help is always available. Remember, Umatter.  

Begin student reaction —–

Nao held onto her suicide as a way of coping with her
uncertainties in life. It makes sense. I can’t stand uncertainty either, and I
had a really hard time accepting the uncertainty that comes with college.

Will I like my roommate?
Will I get into the business school?
Will I stay with my boyfriend or will one of us find
someone we like more?
Will I get a job after college?

The list goes on and on. Starting college, I wished
that I could just know the answers. It kept me up at night. Questions circled
round my head all hours of the day. I never felt at peace. I couldn’t stand
still, couldn’t relax, and always had headaches. 

It only got worse as my freshman year stretched on. I
was worried about a lot of things, but most of all, I feared what happened when
someone dies. During my senior year of high school, a girl in my grade
committed suicide. I had never understood what it really meant to feel haunted
until that day in 2011. I would wake up convinced that she was standing in my
room, watching me. As I would try to fall asleep, I imagined her hovering over
me, whispering into my ear. I couldn’t escape it, and I couldn’t understand why
she would do it. Why would anyone willfully take away their own life?

Well, as my anxiety raged on, I started to understand.
I was so worried about the future; wouldn’t it just be easier if I had no
future? Those worries would all go away. I would go away. I, like Nao, could
just hang onto the idea of suicide as a form of comfort. “Oh, it doesn’t matter;
I won’t be around much longer anyway.”

Lucky for me, as soon as these thoughts entered my
mind, I pictured my school the day after that girl died. I’m sure while she was
standing on those tracks that night in 2011, she had no idea how many lives her
actions were about to affect. She touched everyone at our school, from her best
friends to those freshmen that were pretty sure they had passed her in the
hallway a few times. Her death broke us. Any one of us would have given
anything to have her back in school again. You see, she was loved. She may not
have felt it, she may have been told contrary, she may have convinced herself
that she was utterly alone. It didn’t matter. She was loved. We loved

Thinking back on those weeks after her death reminds
me of the value of a life. We had such an aversive reaction to her death – it
must be because we are made to live! As social beings, we need to rely on one
another. And when someone takes themselves out of the game, it affects all the

After my freshman year, I got help for my anxiety. I
was diagnosed with Generalize Anxiety Disorder, and started seeing a therapist
at UHS. Those hours we spent together changed my life. I understand that life
will always have uncertainties, and I’m working on embracing them. Now, I’m running
into life, not hiding from it. And although I still have bad days, overall I’m
much happier. For the time being, and hopefully for much longer than that, too. 

you a student who is passionate about suicide prevention or mental health
promotion? Do you want to work to end stigma surrounding mental health issues
on our campus? Check out ASK.LISTEN.SAVE. to connect with student engaged in
these efforts or email to learn more.