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Today Ruth Ozeki won UK’s prestigious Women’s Prize for The Book of Form and Emptiness, becoming the 27th laureate, and edging out a gifted, competitive field. (Previous winners include Ann Patchett and Maggie O’Farrell as well as Oprah’s Book Club picks Marilynne Robinson and Tayari Jones.) Ozeki’s playful origami of a novel illuminates the inner life of 15-year-old Benny Oh, a biracial adolescent who loses his musician father and slips into a psychotic fugue as his mother grapples with her own burdens. Benny hears voices from the objects in his house, a disorienting stereo, and seeks refuge among the stacks at the public library, where the books are kind and courteous, befriending him. Here’s the kicker: The novel itself narrates the story, manipulating forms to our delight: “Books are works of love...even our driest tomes, the most unromantic among us, can make your dreams come true.”
The American Canadian Ozeki is something of a polymath: The author of four novels and an autobiography, she’s also a filmmaker, a Buddhist priest, and a literature professor at her alma mater, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In her speech, Ozeki said, “I am a firm believer in bootstrapping, that women have to support each other.” She’s been a generous mentor to many students, among them Leila Mottley, Oprah’s Book Club’s current featured author, whose book Nightcrawling is currently #8 on the New York Times bestseller list in its first week on sale.
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