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Communications and Marketing

Ragdale author to hold reading

The Chicago Tribune previewed novelist Ruth Ozeki’s upcoming visit to Lake Forest College as part of the Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale program.

Ruth Ozeki speaks on writing at Lake Forest College

By Samantha Nelson

Ruth Ozeki had written a draft of her third novel, which centered on the diary of a bullied Japanese girl named Nao, and was ready to send it to her editor when the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan and led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

“That was just a devastating event,” she said. “I have a lot of relatives and friends in Japan. It was one of those moments where it felt like time had stopped. After a couple weeks tracking them down, I realized that the earthquake had radically changed Japan. It caused a rift in time. I had written about pre-Fukushima Japan and now we were living in the post-earthquake world. The book I had written wasn’t appropriate anymore. It wasn’t relevant.”

Ozeki threw away about two-thirds of the book, 350 to 400 pages, penning a version where Nao’s diary washes up on the shores of British Columbia after the tsunami and is found by a fictional version of Ozeki herself.

While she’d initially resisted the idea of putting herself in the story “because it seemed too self referential and post-modern,” once she made the decision, Ozeki said she found writing the new version surprisingly easy.

“It amused me because I was able to fictionalize myself and my husband and our cat in funny ways,” she said. “I had a surprisingly good time doing it. After ripping the book in half, I started in May and finished it in October after spending years on the earlier version of the book. It was probably one of the most exciting writing experiences I’ve ever had.”

The result was “A Tale of the Time Being,” which was chosen for this year’s Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale program. Ozeki will read from and discuss the book and answer questions at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at Lake Forest College. She’ll also be leading a guided meditation and signing copies of her book at 6 p.m. Oct. 27 at Lake Forest Book Store. A novice Zen Buddhist priest, Ozeki leads a meditation group at Smith College and also integrates the practice into her creative writing classes there.

“It trains the mind to be more focused,” she said. “This is very useful to writers. It takes a lot of stamina to keep returning to the page over and over again. It requires steadiness as well.”

Ozeki had been meditating and practicing Zen Buddhism for a long time, and Zen philosophy features very prominently in “A Tale for the Time Being.” The book, Ozeki said, was inspired by the 13th century Zen master Dogen’s essay “The Time Being.”

Ozeki’s book also explores the impact of bullying, an issue she said is common in Japanese films and literature but less explored in the United States. The heroine Nao, who grew up in California but moved back to Japan, is so traumatized by the way her fellow students treat her that she plans to take her own life.

“I’ve been following a lot of stories about bullying and teen suicide since the ’90s just because it was disturbing,” Ozeki said. “I just sort of felt that it was only a matter of time that we started seeing more of these incidents happening in this country. I always think it’s good to talk about these things. It’s good to try to understand why this is happening.”

Ozeki is currently working on another novel, which also has its roots in Buddhism.

“It’s a novel that I hope will be easier to write,” she said.

A Conversation with Ruth Ozeki

–Chicago Tribune, October 12, 2017