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Guest Post: Lawrence Blank-Cook on Cancer and The Passage of Time

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sxsw headshotLawrence Cook’s favorite guilty pleasure is reading in bed with the entire family – each with their own book or newspaper.  With daughters getting bigger, she knows that this pleasure has an expiration date.  On a day with no commitments, she would walk the dogs, practice yoga, and have lunch with a friend or two.  She secretly enjoys weeding in her flower garden.  Lawrence leads collaboration and social knowledge sharing at Deloitte.  Today she reviews two books that have been meaningful to her in the last few months, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

From Lawrence:  As a cancer survivor, I have not been keen on reading a novel about a cancer patient. And some of you may want to stop right here. 9780525478812_p0_v1_s114x166If you decide to keep reading this post, or even pick up the book itself, you are in for a treat. When my daughter recommended The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, I knew that I would have to read it one day – when I had the energy for it.  That one day came as I was leaving for a business trip and knew that I would be missing my family.  On the plane, I was drawn in from the first two pages and found myself voraciously looking for any excuse to keep reading.  I finished it within 36 hours.  Green’s novel was written for a teenage cancer patient, and he clearly knows his subject. Hazel is the realistic, reliable narrator who takes us into the world of how being a teenager is unique for those with a terminal illness.  Hazel doesn’t candy coat anything, but she doesn’t make us want to cry throughout the entire novel.  Instead, she tells us the truth of her existence with humor and self-deprecation and with a typical teenage angst.  The novel centers around Hazel’s newfound boyfriend and her obsession with Peter Van Houten’s An Imperial Affliction.  The narrative takes on monumental highs and lows as Hazel and her boyfriend deal with burgeoning love and crestfallen disappointment in humanity itself.  While the book realistically deals with the disease itself, it doesn’t leave you shaken to your core – it gives you hope in humanity and the very realistic aspect of living life one day at a time.  Something all of us need reminding of on occasion.

9780143124870_p0_v1_s114x166Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for The Time Being is a narrative that delivers again and again.  This deliberate exploration of time – literally sandwiched inside Marcel Proust’s À la Recherché du Temps Perdu – is driven by two narrative voices that weave together multiple moments across generations, geographies, and historical divides.  Nao (pronounced “now”) Yasutani, the initial narrator, tells us in the first sentence that she is “a time being…someone who lives in time,” and she immediately pulls the reader in as an active participant who experiences time on her terms.  She asks us to contemplate the concept of here and now and the present and the past as if it were a ball to be tossed back and forth.  At one point, Nao tells us, “When I was a little kid…, the word ‘now’ felt especially strange and unreal to me because it ‘was’ me – at least the sound of it was.”  Again and again, Nao forces her reader to contemplate the past and the present and the “now” that has just escaped us as we utter the very word itself.

For Ruth, the other key narrative voice in this novel, Nao’s story becomes co-mingled with her own.  Ruth pieces together Nao’s story with the diary itself, the letters written in French, and the mysterious watch also included in the package that Ruth finds washed ashore. We learn about Nao’s experience as well as the ancestral stories that have brought her to this moment in time: her Buddhist grandmother, her uncle who reluctantly served and died in World War II, and Nao’s own parents as they move from America back to Tokyo.  And we learn about Ruth’s own story, her husband’s and her mother’s.

Ozeki was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and is also a filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. The richness of her life comes through in this novel and left me wanting to explore this blending of time and fact and fiction even more.

3 Comments

  1. Wonderful and makes me want to read them both. Thank you, Lawrence and Jennifer!

  2. Thanks for reading, Ridley!

  3. Pingback: Guest Post: Lawrence Cook on The Luminaries | Bacon on the Bookshelf

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