Ruth Ozeki: “You are a novelist, it is normal that you hear voices”

American-Canadian writer Ruth Ozeki, in Turin, in 2022.

We would have liked so much to catch it in British Columbia, Ruth Ozeki! On this Canadian islet, Cortes Island, where she lives half the time, where she set her previous novel, the very moving At the same time, all the earth and all the sky (Belfond, 2013). But when she appears on the screen, it is on a New York brick wall that she is cut out. ” Missed ! »she said, laughing.

She writes in Canada and teaches in the United States. “Finally, I was teaching… Because, at 67, I have just put an end to my career as a teacher of creative writing at Smith College (Massachusetts). » Will she retire to her island to play the Robinson novelists in the heart of the primary forest? She says nothing about it, but she lovingly describes this wild territory that once belonged to the First Nations. “A haven of peace, with its immemorial trees and what is called the Bay of Desolation over there” – which is none other than a marine sanctuary.

This woman emanates a striking sweetness. Like someone who has put down his suitcases after a long and winding journey. Born to an American father and a Japanese mother, Ruth Ozeki is Canadian, American and Japanese. “I know, I’m losing myself”, she jokes. She spent her youth in Connecticut and, after studying literature, received a scholarship from the Japanese government to complete her thesis in Nara. Then, by a chain of destinies, continues to metamorphose. She became a bar hostess, an ikebana artist, a nô theater specialist, the creator of an English school, a teacher at Kyoto University… Back in the United States, she was reincarnated again – as a film decorator. horror, as a producer for Japanese television, as a director of documentary films… Before finding the envelope which, it seems, suits her best, that of a fiction writer.

Four novels and numerous awards later – including the American Book Award for All Over Creation (“all creation”, untranslated) – what does she think? Is this life as a novelist the right one? Once again she smiled. She seems to be in a permanent state of curiosity and receptivity. She does not answer the question directly, but she talks about “the absence of a fixed identity” which, according to her, characterizes us all. Which brings us to Buddhism.

The image of the wave

In 2010, Ruth Ozeki was ordained a Zen priest according to the Japanese tradition, which allows marriage. And it is under the sign of Zen that she placed her fourth novel, The Quiet Burden of Things (The Book of Form and Emptiness in English, the book of form and emptiness”). “This title comes from a famous sutra, the heart sutra, she explains. It states the emptiness of all things and all phenomena. This does not mean their non-existence, but their lack of permanent character: nothing that we perceive, including you and me, has a fixed identity. »

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