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Ruth Ozeki: The Book of Form and Emptiness

Read Thursday, 14 Oct 2021
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Ruth Ozeki is a Man Booker-shortlisted novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest whose books have garnered international acclaim. 

In her latest novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices following the death of his beloved musician father. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. 

At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world. He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice among the many.

And he meets his very own Book – a talking thing – who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.

With its blend of sympathetic characters, riveting plot, and vibrant engagement with everything from jazz, to climate change, to our attachment to material possessions, The Book of Form and Emptiness is classic Ruth Ozeki – bold, wise, poignant, playful, humane and heartbreaking.

To join Ozeki for a conversation about The Book of Form and Emptiness and what it means to come of age in this increasingly cacophonous world, click here.

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