The Book of Form and Emptiness Summary and Reviews

The Book of Form and Emptiness

A Novel

by Ruth Ozeki

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki X
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
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  • Published Sep 2021
    560 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

A boy who hears the voices of objects all around him; a mother drowning in her possessions; and a Book that might hold the secret to saving them both—the brilliantly inventive new novel from the Booker Prize-finalist Ruth Ozeki.

One year after the death of his beloved musician father, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. 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 amongst 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.

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Book Awards

  • award image Women's Prize for Fiction, 2022

Reviews

Media Reviews

"[Ozeki] writes with bountiful insight, exuberant imagination, and levitating grace about psychic diversity, our complicated attitude toward our possessions, street protests, climate change, and such wonders as crows, the moon, and snow globes. Most inventively, Ozeki celebrates the profound relationship between reader and writer. This enthralling, poignant, funny, and mysterious saga, thrumming with grief and tenderness, beauty and compassion, offers much wisdom." - Booklist (Starred Review)

"Ozeki playfully and successfully breaks the fourth wall [...] and she cultivates a striking blend of young adult fiction tropes with complex references to Walter Benjamin, Zen Buddhism, and Marxist philosophy. This is the rare work that will entertain teenagers, literary fiction readers, and academics alike." - Publishers Weekly

"A meditative tribute to books, libraries, and Zen wisdom." - Kirkus Reviews

"[A] Borgesian, Zen Buddhist parable of consumerism ...Ozeki gives us a metaphor for our very own American consumption disorder, our love-hate relationship with the stuff we produce and can't let go of." - New York Times Book Review

"A masterful meditation on consumer culture…It is both profound and fun, a loving indictment of our consumer culture. As the novel asks the reader turning the pages, 'has it ever occurred to you that books have feelings, too?'" - USA Today

"The Book itself has a marvelous voice: adult, ironic, affirming at every turn the importance of books as a repository of humanity's deepest wisdom and highest aspirations." - Washington Post

"[A] vivid story of fraught adolescence, big ideas and humanity's tenuous hold on a suffering planet ... [Ozeki offers] a profound understanding of the human condition and a gift for turning it into literature." - Los Angeles Times

"Ozeki started writing The Book of Form and Emptiness eight years ago, but it is eerily suited to what readers are going through now, a quantum companion to A Tale for the Time Being: If time is part of healing, sorting through matter—through stuff—is part of mourning." - New York Magazine

"Heartfelt ... Ozeki, a practicing Buddhist priest, infuses her story with Zen philosophy, using themes of mindfulness and our connection to the living world to highlight pressing modern concerns like climate change, capitalism and the function of art. Inventive, vivid and propelled by a sense of wonder, The Book of Form and Emptiness will delight younger and older readers alike." - TIME

"Out of their fractured relations, she makes something so satisfying that it gave me the sense of being addressed not by an author but by a world, one that doesn't quite exist yet, except in tenuous parallel to ours: a world built out of ideas that spill into the text like a continuous real-time event." - The Guardian

"An ambitious and ingenious novel...Clever without being arch, metafictional without being arcane, dark without being nihilistic, The Book of Form and Emptiness is an exuberant delight." - Boston Globe

"This book ponders the very nature of things ... Do inanimate items possess a life force? How do we distinguish acute sensitivity from mental illness? These questions fuel a searching novel, one that combines a coming-of-age tale with an ode to the printed page...her ruminations on life's greatest mysteries provide an elegant foundation for an intriguing story." - Star-Tribune

"In giving the Book a point of view, Ozeki creates a loquacious, animated voice with ideas about other books, the past, the need for human stories and the mutual needs of humans and books...These images reverberate long after the reading, speaking to Ozeki's broad and benign vision of connected beings." - Seattle Times

"The Book of Form and Emptiness indeed has everything one wants from a novel—sympathetic and interesting characters, a propulsive story that is heartbreaking but also playful and affirming, artful structure and skillful point of view—all while wrestling with life's big questions." - Fiction Writers Review

"When spending time in Ozeki's world, the empirically provable and quantifiable become less important, and the truths of our inner lives grow louder, if only we can honor those voices." - Japan Times

"With her characteristic charm, empathy, and perspicacity, Ozeki writes Benny's story of learning to hear, and manage, the voices, and hear himself along the way." - The Millions

"[A] beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful novel" - Reader's Digest

"[A] poignant and funny story." - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"If what you need right now is to sink into a big, warm, literary bath, this is the book for you ... It's a big book in more ways than one, complex and ambitious and wide-ranging, but honestly also just so charming I found it hard to walk away from, even when I was done." - Lit Hub

"With all confidence, I can say that The Book of Form and Emptiness is very real. It's a wonderful, heartwarming story of emotional growth filled with characters as real as anyone you would meet on the street. Except we are meeting them through the Book. And the Book, as we learn, knows all." - Washington Independent Review of Books

"This compassionate novel of life, love and loss glows in the dark. Its strange, beautiful pages turn themselves. If you've lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home." - David Mitchell, Booker Prize-finalist author of Cloud Atlas and Utopia Avenue

"Heart-breaking and heart-healing—a book to not only keep us absorbed but also to help us think and love and live and listen. No one writes quite like Ruth Ozeki and The Book of Form and Emptiness is a triumph." - Matt Haig, >New York Times bestselling author of The Midnight Library

"This is both an extremely vivid picture of a small family enduring unimaginable loss, and a very powerful meditation on the way books can contain the chaos of the world and give it meaning and order. Annabelle and Benny Oh try to stay afloat in a sea of things, news, substances, technological soullessness, and psychiatric quagmires, and the way they learn to live and breathe and even swim through it all feels like the struggle we all face. The Book of Form and Emptiness builds on the themes of A Tale for the Time Being, and ratifies Ozeki as one of our era's most compassionate and original minds." - Dave Eggers, author of The Circle and The Parade

"Once again, Ozeki has created a masterpiece. Her generous heart, remarkable imagination, and brilliant mind light up every page." - Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

"Ozeki has done it again. This time she crosses into new dimensions, breathing life into pages, enticing us into an intimate world. Richly imagined, gorgeously executed, The Book of Form and Emptiness is a remarkable book." - David Eagleman, acclaimed neuroscientist and author of Livewired

This information about The Book of Form and Emptiness was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest. She is the award-winning author of three novels, My Year of Meats, All Over Creation, and A Tale for the Time Being, which was a finalist for the 2013 Booker Prize. Her nonfiction work includes a memoir, The Face: A Time Code, and the documentary film, Halving the Bones. She is affiliated with the Everyday Zen Foun­dation and teaches creative writing at Smith College, where she is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities.

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