Rating: 3.5/5

How ironic is life?

What beholds us more? – The suppressed grief or the illuminating happiness. Both, indeed!

It’s like a deluge of stony pebbles washed away by the tumultuous tide to get deposited at the river bank and swished again by the effrontery of insipid wave. Life is like that too! Our grief gets clustered in a web, deliquescently pushed in every nerve of our body, and suddenly a palatable intrusion to our monotony insists to define new rules.

The joyous times we hold onto are like smothering of feathers, while the sad ones cling to us, refusing to let go—followed by delusion, bereavement and loneliness. The mind and the spine become enfeeble – a perfidy we ultimately stop responding to. Annabelle, the protagonist of ‘The Book of Forms and Emptiness’ adopts a nincompoop behavior of hoarding things; crestfallen and mortified, her unexplainable grief is an impasse—difficult to resurrect and like bullets ricocheting off the walls.

An archivist by profession, Annabelle is dejected after her husband Kenny’s death. With her unruly behavior, she is overwhelmed by the material possessions in her house. She becomes like an unprotected wire with no friends and relatives around her. Her only surrounding of life is her son Benny, who rails off the black holes of auditory hallucinations—hears voices of everything around him; a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce and other pitter-patter.

Benny is not oblivious to them but is unable to comprehend their veracity; is there something they want to convey or it’s his adaptability that scorns them to filter more? But he does sense their emotional tone; some pleasant, punctilious and others snide and scurrilous thronging anger and pain. With passage of time voices grow more clamorous, dragging him like a powerful riptide out of a babbling sea.

The cataclysm is a fatal terror making Benny hurting himself with scissors. The coup de grace is the entry into a psychiatric ward where he meets a mysterious girl who leads him to a series of adventures in the town’s library. Library becomes his sanatoriumas a revelation of his new existence. He further encounters a street artist who has a pet ferret, a homeless poet and philosopher and finally a cornucopia of books that teach him to shut out the irrelevant voices and listen to the things that truly matter.

The idea of the book is to bring forth some of the imperative issues ofmodern-day world. Ruth Ozeki is an illuminating wizard who touches on portions of life that are left abandoned—consumerism and mental illness. These have plagued our society and the author deserves applause for presenting themthrough the sombertale; a distressed mother and a disconsolate son drowning in grief. They seek a path to obliterate mess off their lives which is both deeply affecting and uplifting. Ruth Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest; hence the book has some profound but lucid Zen teachings.

What the book fails to provide is an intriguing plot; the events elucidated are mundane and can be abridged to gauge the attention of the readers.


The book elucidates an unflinching and relentless fight against despondency, solitude and grief. The author has fastidiously cited five stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

The book enlightens us with a sanguine approach to life:

After every hard struggle, there is always a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

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