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Ruth Ozeki (born March 12, 1956) is a Canadian-American novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. She worked in commercial television and media production for over a decade and made several independent films before turning to writing fiction.
Ozeki was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut by American father, Floyd Lounsbury and Japanese mother, Masako Yokoyama. She studied English and Asian Studies at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts and traveled extensively in Asia. She received a Japanese Ministry of Education Fellowship to do graduate work in classical Japanese literature at Nara University in Nara, Nara. During her years in Japan, she worked in Kyoto’s entertainment district as a bar hostess, studied flower arranging as well as Noh drama and mask carving, founded a language school, and taught in the English Department at Kyoto Sangyo University.
Ozeki moved to New York in 1985 and began a film career as an art director, designing sets and props for low budget horror movies. She switched to television production, and after several years directing documentary-style programs for a Japanese company, she started making her own films. Body of Correspondence (1994) won the New Visions Award at the San Francisco Film Festival and was aired on PBS. Halving the Bones (1995), an award-winning autobiographical film, tells the story of Ozeki’s journey as she brings her grandmother’s remains home from Japan. It has been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, the Montreal World Film Festival, and the Margaret Mead Film Festival, among others. Ozeki’s films, now in educational distribution, are shown at universities, museums and arts venues around the world.
Ozeki has written three novels, My Year of Meats which won the Kiriyama Prize, All Over Creation
winning the American Book Award and A Tale for the Time Being shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
Ozeki’s meditative, era-flipping story starts with a chance discovery by a Japanese-American novelist called Ruth. Ruth lives on an island in British Columbia. Walking on the beach she stumbles on a barnacle-studded wad of plastic bags protecting a Hello Kitty lunchbox. Inside are some old letters and the diary of 16-year-old Nao (pronounced “now”) Yasutani, who describes herself as “a little wave person. Floating about on the stormy sea of life”.
By either coincidence or karma, Nao also happens to be a kind of Japanese-American, and therefore a bit like Ruth. She was born to Japanese parents, but her heart belongs to Silicon Valley, where she spent her happy formative years, and she feels just as at ease in English as Japanese. She is now back in Japan, miserable, and contemplating “dropping out of time” altogether.
Just how long has her testament been bobbing about on the waves? Is Nao a tsunami victim, or does her possible suicide predate the tragedy? The fact that Ruth is itching to know may make her decision to read Nao’s story episodically, in the on-off rhythm in which it was written (rather than to speed-read to the end and find out), feel contrived. But it gives Ozeki the chance to switch between the now of Ruth’s quietly claustrophobic life with her artist-naturalist husband Oliver and the turbulent now of Nao, whose story begins in Tokyo at the turn of the new century.
The two protagonists are chalk and cheese. Ruth’s daily life consists of Google searches, speculations about a mysterious crow, pedagogically driven information-exchanges with her husband and neighbours, internet access breakdowns and missing cats. No wonder she’s hooked on the sad soap opera of Nao’s Tokyo life.
Nao (“I’m a time being. Do you know what a time being is? It’s someone who lives in time”) may be irritating, with her constant tugging on the reader’s sleeve and her hysterical emoticons, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for this beleaguered teenager, or to admire the power with which Ozeki evokes her plight. Nao’s father, unemployed and depressed, reads western philosophy, constructs origami insects and makes failed suicide attempts, while her mother absents herself completely: one day she’s a zonked housewife tuning out in front of aquarium jellyfish, the next she has a job in publishing. Meanwhile Nao is bullied by baroquely sadistic schoolmates: the abuse culminates in a staged funeral, a near-rape and a humiliating online knicker auction that sends her into a vortex of despair.
But thanks to the Universe, help is at hand in the form of Jiko, Nao’s ancient, anarchist-feminist great-grandmother. The tiny bald nun invites Nao to her mountain temple where fresh air and Zen wisdom work their magic. Here Nao is taught to sit straight, empty her mind, scrub old-lady skin, and offer prayers of gratitude to toilets: “As I go for a dump / I pray with all beings / That we can remove all filth and destroy / The poisons of greed, anger and foolishness.”
In an environment as fertile as this, more stories are bound to sprout, and sure enough they do. Old Jiko had a kamikaze pilot son who left secret letters – also in the Hello Kitty lunchbox – written in a code language called French. At this point Ruth, normally a keen advocate of Google’s many useful applications, seeks out Benoit, a waste disposal worker, who translates the doomed pilot’s words with the finesse of an award-winning interpreter. And finally, all – or rather a set of parallel alls – is revealed.
Seen from space, or from the vantage point of those conversant with Zen principles, A Tale for the Time Being is probably a deep and illuminating piece of work, with thoughtful things to say about the slipperiness of time. But for those positioned lower in the planet’s stratosphere, Ozeki’s novel often feels more like the great Pacific gyre it frequently evokes: a vast, churning basin of mental flotsam in which Schrödinger’s cat, quantum mechanics, Japanese funeral rituals, crow species, fetish cafes, the anatomy of barnacles, 163 footnotes and six appendices all jostle for attention. It’s an impressive amount of stuff.
One version of you might be intrigued. Another might pray it doesn’t land on your shore.- Liz Jensen, The Guardian
Ruth Ozeki does a fine job narrating A Tale for the Time Being, with an average ratiing of 4.4 out of 5 from Audible listeners. This is somewhat unexpected as many authors make poor narrators. The audio book is 14 hrs and 48 mins long.
Watch Canongate TV’s interview with Ruth Ozeki about writing “A Tale for the Time Being” on YouTube.
Donna Tartt was born in 1963, in Greenwood, MS to Don and Taylor Tartt. She attended University of Mississippi, c. 1981 and graduated from Bennington College in VT in 1986.
After Tartt graduated from Bennington College in 1986, she moved to New York City, living in Greenwich Village. She also lived in Boston, Massachusetts, for a time, and went back and forth between the cities.
During this period, she attended an art school in New York City for a short time, but did not have much skill as a painter and gave up this pursuit.
Donna Tartt has published three novels—1992’s The Secret History, 2002’s The Little Friend and 2013’s The Goldfinch, she is considered an important, influential novelist.
The petite, very private Tartt is a native of Mississippi, and though her first novel was set at a northern college, she has been considered a Southern Gothic writer, however her latest book is set in New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam.
Her books also have some qualities of thrillers and suspense novels with intricate plots and interesting characters.
There’s a passage early on in The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s massively entertaining, darkly funny new book, that goes a long way toward explaining why its author is finally securing her place alongside the greatest American novelists of the past half-century, including John Updike, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison and that other latter-day Dickensian, John Irving.
“I was fascinated by strangers, wanted to know what food they ate and what dishes they ate it from, what movies they watched and what music they listened to, wanted to look under their beds and in their secret drawers and night tables and inside the pockets of their coats,” says the narrator and hero of The Goldfinch, a boy (later a young man) named Theo Decker. “Often I saw interesting-looking people on the street and thought about them restlessly for days, imagining their lives, making up stories about them on the subway or on the crosstown bus.”
This avid, even obsessive interest in strangers is among the earliest signs that Theo —whose life is upended when he and his mother are present at a terrorist bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which kills his mother and leaves him in possession of the rare Dutch painting that shares the novel’s title — will be one of the memorable figures in recent fiction.
Haunted, guilt-ridden and prone to self-endangerment — much of it centered around the painting, to which Theo clings as a symbol of his lost, beloved parent — Theo takes the reader on a fantastic journey. It’s full of moral confusion, hairpin plot turns and, best of all, a vivid, rather raucous cast of characters drawn with the fond yet gimlet-eyed insight of Charles Dickens, whose spirit hovers over this book like a guardian angel.
Of course, Theo’s description of his habit of imagining the lives of others is also the key to his creator’s brilliance. For all her prodigious gift for suspenseful plotting, Tartt, who exploded onto the literary scene with her addictive The Secret History in 1992 and then stumbled slightly a decade later with The Little Friend, develops her characters with the deftness, humor and sympathy of Dickens, her literary hero.
We get to know Theo and his associates — including the Barbours, the wealthy Upper East Side couple who take Theo in after his mother’s death; Hobie, the antique restorer in whose shop Theo learns certain dark arts that help hasten his ethical drift; and Boris, the merry, oddly philosophical thug who accompanies Theo to the edges of the international art-theft circuit — through the sort of telling, comprehensive detail that etches them in our minds as indelibly as Mr. Micawber or Uriah Heep from David Copperfield, Magwitch or Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.
Along the way, Tartt manages to deliver wistful, always wise meditations on class divisions, the contradictions of the art world, the power of memory and the randomness of fate, in which life can take all sorts of seemingly disastrous turns and yet, in true Dickensian fashion, turn out all right in the end.
The result is the best book of 2013 so far, and required reading for anyone who loves great literature from this or any other century.- Kevin Nance USA TODAY
David Pittu does an excellent job narrating The Goldfinch, garnering a 4.6 out of 5 rating from Audible listeners. The audio book is 32 hrs and 30 mins long. Pittu is not well known for narrating major novels, but his reading of The Goldfinch is near perfect. Clearly he has been undervalued for some time. It is hard to imagine that the book could have been read more perfectly.
Watch BBC’s Kristy Wark interview Donna Tart about writing The Goldfinch on YouTube.
Everyone knows now that Robert Galbraith is really JK Rowling, she outed herself once The Cuckoo’s Calling was favorably reviewed.
JK Rowling was born in July 1965 at Yate General Hospital in England and grew up in Chepstow, Gwent where she went to Wyedean Comprehensive.
Jo left Chepstow for Exeter University, where she earned a French and Classics degree, her course including one year in Paris. As a postgraduate she moved to London and worked as a researcher at Amnesty International among other jobs. She started writing the Harry Potter series during a delayed Manchester to London King’s Cross train journey, and during the next five years, outlined the plots for each book and began writing the first novel.
Post Harry Potter books have been strickly adult fiction, The Casual Vacancy published in September 2012 and The Cuckoo’s Calling in April 2013.
JK Rowling’s latest novel The Cuckoo’s Calling is a crime thriller, written using the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. As a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I can understand why she would want to do that. After The Casual Vacancy, which wasn’t that well-received critically, the reaction of many readers may be, ”But there’s no magic here, so why should I read it?” Not that the pseudonym helped, because it was revealed early on that Galbraith was actually Rowling. So much for that.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a completely different genre from the magical lives of Harry and his Friends. And yes, Rowling knows how to write a crime thriller. It’s a good ‘masala read’. The Harry Potter series is ample proof of her ability to tell a story and keep readers engrossed and this new book just adds to that reputation. If you don’t believe me, The Cuckoo’s Calling is the number one seller as of 12 August on Apple’s iBooks store and number three on NYT‘s bestselling list.
The books deals with the death of a young model Lula Landry and it is assumed that her death is a suicide by all but her brother who calls in a private detective named Cormoran Strike to investigate the case.
Associated Press The cover for The Cuckoo’s Calling. Associated Press
When reading a crime thriller, there are few crucial points that I look for: the plot, the pace of the novel and the characters.
Her protagonist Cormoran Strike isn’t your regular private detective. He is the underdog and one that you are unlikely to root for. He’s not good looking, has one leg, lives alone and is the illegitimate child of a famous rockstar. He isn’t doing too well with his agency either. Cormoran, in fact, seems destined to fail. It’s a clever trope by Rowling since you don’t get overwhelmed by the hero. So when he does get it right, you’re actually quite astounded.
In addition, there’s Cormoran’s temporary secretary, Robin, who eventually grows on you as a character. Though she’s quite useful as a secretary, you can’t help but feel annoyed with her because Rowling keeps referring to how her boyfriend isn’t too pleased with Robin doing this job.
Rowling delivers on plot and characters but the pace is a little trying. I kept wishing Rowling would get on with the story, instead of talking about the protagonist’s girlfriend or giving lengthy descriptions of London. For instance, we don’t learn why Cormoran broke up with his girlfriend, Charlotte, but that they did break up is dangled before us every now and then.
There’s no predicting the end of The Cuckoo’s Calling, which is the book’s greatest strength since it is, after all, a thriller. Cormoran’s investigation seems long drawn at times and frequently, we detour into Cormoran’s past. The fact that Cormoran himself isn’t convinced about the fact that Lula was murdered, at least not in the beginning, adds to the suspense as well and even after 200 pages, the novel doesn’t give much evidence of a murder and you wonder, is this just a wild goose chase?
Rowling has also chosen to weave in the problem of the prying paparazzi , the hacking scandal in the Britain. She ties this in with her description of Lula’s life: the fact that the model didn’t trust anyone, used someone else’s phone because she knew her own phone had been hacked by the press. It’s a subtle comment on the voyeuristic nature of the press in Britain. Remember, Rowling too had testified as before the commission, set up to investigate the hacking scandal trial in Britain. The book makes it evident that Rowling isn’t a fan of the paparazzi.
The way Rowling ends the novel, you can see that she’s probably going to write a sequel with Cormoran and Robin back as detective and sidekick. After Harry Potter, this could be her second chance at making a successful book series. In short, if you’re a fan of crime thrillers, I’d definitely give this one a read.
- Shruti Dhapola, Firstpost, Aug 20, 2013
Watch SabelCaught’s Review on YouTube.
Robert Glenister does an excellent job narrating The Cuckoo’s Calling, garnering a 4.5 out of 5 rating from Audible listeners. The audio book is 15 hrs and 54 mins long.
The author of “The Orphan Master’s Son”, Adam Johnson is Associate Professor of English at Stanford University with emphasis in creative writing . A Whiting Writers’ Award winner, his fiction has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, Playboy, Paris Review, Granta, Tin House and Best American Short Stories. He is the author of Emporium, a short-story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us, which won a California Book Award.
His novel The Orphan Master’s Son was published in 2012 by Random House and has just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for 2013.
His books have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, Catalan, German, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese and Serbian.Johnson is a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Johnson was a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.
He teaches Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, The Novel Salon and The Graphic Novel.
“The Orphan Master’s Son,” is San Francisco author Adam Johnson’s searing fictionalized account of life in North Korea and has been called the “1984″ of our era garnering critical raves. Find out how Johnson, the director of Stanford University’s acclaimed Creative Writing program, penetrated the veil of secrecy that enshrouds this tragic land to bring the country and its people into blazing light.
Over the past few months, North Korea has hosted a surreal basketball “diplomacy” trip with Dennis Rodman, threatened war and held celebrations with flowers, missiles and music. But very few have an inkling of what the Hermit Kingdom is really like from the inside.
Stanford University professor of English Adam Johnson has made a very ambitious attempt to answer that question in his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction earlier this week. After an absence last year, literature buffs breathed a collective sigh of relief to see the award return this year. Previous winners include Nobel laureates Ernest Hemmingway (The Old Man and the Sea), John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) and Toni Morrison (Beloved).
Johnson’s book has won near universal acclaim among critics, being called “exceedingly readable” in a review by The New York Times, which took home several Pulitzers of its own. The Guardian also published a rave review of the book, comparing it to 1984 and Brave New World, in which the writer said that Johnson “managed to capture the atmosphere of this hermit kingdom better than any writer I’ve read.”
Pulling off this level of believability and eliciting such praise was no simple task for Johnson. In the process of writing the book, he made a closely chaperoned visit to the reclusive state and did copious research, devouring history books, propaganda and the testimonials of defectors. “Once I started reading these stories, everything changed,” Johnson said of his investigations during a talk for Stanford’s “How I Write” lecture series. “There was a weight of them in me … They were real people.”
When the research could go no further, Johnson let his mind’s eye take the wheel in a process that he describes as “extending my imagination as far as I trusted and then going back to the sources.”
The result is the story of a young man named Jun Do (a Korean “John Doe”) who lives under the reign of Kim Jong-Il. Throughout Jun’s journey, he finds himself working in the worst possible jobs: tunnel soldier, kidnapper, naval spy, before ultimately ending up in Prison 33.
One passage of the best-selling tome reads: “Inside, I’m assaulted by the evening propaganda broadcasts coming over the apartment’s hardwired loudspeaker. There’s one in every apartment and factory floor in Pyongyang.”
Another: “Real stories like this, human ones, could get you sent to prison, and it didn’t matter what they were about. It didn’t matter if the story was about an old woman or a squid attack—if it diverted emotion from the Dear Leader, it was dangerous.”
Writing a book about a country about which we know so little raises many questions about accurately portraying life under such menacing conditions. Andray Abrahamian, Executive Director of the Choson Exchange, a Singaporean NGO that promotes business development for young North Koreans, has been to the North nine times since 2010. The Choson Exchange team has been a combined total of 25 times since 2009. Yet, he feels that the place remains an enigma.
Through the course of actually working – not only traveling – to the North, “we get a chance to really meet people, talk with them and get to know them,” Abrahamian told The Diplomat. “That is also possible on tours, but is tough if you don’t speak Korean.”
Imperfect they may be, but Abrahamian still vouches for tours to North Korea as a means of getting some grasp on the realities of life in the country.
“There is certainly value to seeing it first hand after reading about it, even if it serves to confirm your preconceptions,” he said. “I can do a ton of research on chocolate cake and be quite certain I know how it tastes, but it isn’t the same kind of knowing as actually eating one.”
Abrahamian continues, “That doesn’t mean that there is one true way of knowing North Korea, but certainly my understanding of North Korea has been greatly enriched since I started going. This doesn’t mean by any stretch I’ve seen the totality of life there, but when and where do you ever?”
Johnson is also keenly aware of this predicament, but was driven to push on despite gaps in his knowledge. The point of a fictional account is not to create a facsimile of life anyway, but to grasp its essence. In other words, there is truth and then there is Truth.
“One of the things I discovered through my research is that most North Koreans can’t tell their story,” Johnson said. “It’s important for others to hear it, though. So I had a sense of mission to speak about the topic.”
He added, “It’s an unverifiable place. But to the fiction writer, the myth, the legend, the fables are all powerful tools to create a psychological portrait.”
-Jonathan DeHart, Asian Life.
” Tim Kang’s quietly underplayed narration offers a grim picture of Jun Do’s life as the Orphan Master’s son, who must be ruthless to survive. Josiah Lee and James Kyson Lee round out the narration, capturing the series of horrific government-sanctioned tasks, the unrelenting drabness of daily life, and the “doublespeak” absurdities of loudspeaker news broadcasts. Watch Tim Kang recording on YouTube.