A brilliantly inventive novel about loss, growing up, and our relationship with things
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.
About the Author
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.
Advance praise for The Book of Form and Emptiness:
“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