Although Ruth Ozeki's A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING didn't win the Booker Prize, its being a finalist says something important: Buddhist Fiction has come of age.
No book is even going to be nominated for Britain's most prestigious literary prize unless it appeals to a general readership -- I mean, of course, a general literate readership. Such a book has to have virtues beyond a Buddhist theme: the prose has to be outstanding, the subject matter serious and worthy of thoughtful people's time and energy, the theme of universal significance.
And yet -- this book is also Buddhist. I mean, lots of writers explore the nature of time -- fiction is so well-suited to that kind of exploration because the stroke of the pen can take readers to any time and place, or multiple times and places in even a single chapter. But when quotations from Zen Master Dogen frame the exploration, as in Ozeki's book, then we are in Buddhist fictional territory.
Or again, the nature of reality is also easily explored in fiction: a few keystrokes make things appear and disappear. But when the analogy to the nature of consciousness is made clearly, then we have Buddhist fiction.
There's always a danger that a genre with a religion as its modifier -- Buddhist fiction -- is going to be dismissed as parochial or didactic, as not worth reading by those who don't share the faith. A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING is not alone in showing that Buddhist fiction can be bigger than this. But the fact that this book has gotten so much attention can draw the attention of readers -- especially non-Buddhist readers -- to a genre that they may have dismissed before.
Note: My interview with Roland Merullo, another Buddhist fiction writer, appears here: