Jun is a rebellious teenager running wild on the streets of Tokyo away from his family to whom he refuses to speak.
His encounter with a master sumo wrestler, who spots his potential to be fat despite his slight frame, leads him into one of the most mysterious practices of the martial arts.
Through him, Jun discovers an unimagined world of strength, intelligence and self-acceptance.But how can he become Zen when he is beset by grief and violence?
How can he become a sumo wrestler when he can't put on weight?
Behind the clouds, there is always a heaven...
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's new novella follows Milarepa, Mr Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran, Oscar and the Lady in Pink and Noah's Child in the series Le Cycle de l'Invisible, bringing readers a tale about childhood and spirituality that goes right to the heart of Zen Buddhism.
Buddachannel - « EES: philosophy by parables »
Who is the shadowy Shomintsu who claims to "see a fat man" in Jun, a lanky teenager eking out an existence peddling photo stories on the streets of Tokyo? Tokyo is vast, but Shomintsu is forever turning up on Jun's path. Eventually, he tells him that he is the head of a sumo wrestling school, and he invites Jun to watch a match. The tormented youth comes to see that a sport he had dismissed as stupid is in fact the way to wisdom. He learns to step back from himself the better to discover who he is, and to off-load his past so as to put his weight behind the future. Filled with self-loathing, convinced that no one, not even his angelic mother, loves him, Jun soon learns to master his emotions through concentration and meditation. The most mysterious of the martial arts initiates him into Zen philosophy and gradually transforms his hatred of everything into a passion for life. At 18, the young man has discovered that "behind the clouds, there is always a heaven".
With The Sumo Wrestler Who Could Not Get Fat, a Buddhist tale about childhood and spirituality, Eric Emmanuel Schmitt has added a new novella to his "Cycle de l'Invisible", a series about the great religions, comprising Milarepa, Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran, Oscar and the Lady in Pink and Noah's Child.***
ÉRIC-EMMANUEL SCHMITT: philosophy by parablesBehind the clouds, there is always a heaven.
This is the Zen maxim, in Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's latest novel-cum-parable, which old Shomintsu strives to convey to Jun, a Tokyo street urchin filled with disgust at the whole world. The old sumo wrestler's motto of hope would not have been out of place in the mouth of Monsieur Ibrahim: it might have emerged among the "flowers of the Koran" of Sufi wisdom. It could have been said by the Lady in Pink, in her conversations with Oscar in his children's ward, or by the saviour-priest, in Noah's Child, who hides Jewish children and instructs his young protégés in the principles of Judaism. Milarepa, the great Tibetan mystic whose story is told in the same series (the "Cycle de l'Invisible"), might also have said it, after his journey through the clouds of his lust for revenge. For, all these simple, touching novellas which Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt produces year after year have a single aim: to posit the possibility of a "heaven". Heaven in this case is not some superstitious fantasy manipulated by a god, but merely a "beyond": a space beyond what we can see and explain, which we do not have full control of but which any of us might find in himself. This hardly looks like philosophy in the strict sense of the term. More precisely, Schmitt, a doctor of philosophy, is advocating the need to renounce a kind of life-denying mentality of deduction that propagates distress.
In the latest issue of PHILO MAGAZINE, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt states clearly: "I've progressively detached myself from absurdism in order to embrace mystery: the idea that there can be meaning which I have not necessarily produced. By subscribing to the idea that what I cannot grasp is not necessarily nonsense, I have substituted trust for distress, and that for me is a secular version of faith." The essential word here is "trust", making this a kind of serene wager that only the unknown can make us see newness, purity and life. This forms the basis of Schmitt's fascination with Jesus, something he makes no secret of despite continuing to define himself as an "agnostic", because, he explains, "I don't know whether God exists. I believe He does, but that belief is not the fount of knowledge. I'm a Christian because for me the Gospels are an endless source of ethics and spirituality [...] in which the value of love is promoted unconditionally and purely." In the same magazine, in conversation with the Muslim philosopher, Abdennour Bidar, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt describes how he reached this point: "I was born and brought up in a world of atheism and the rejection of religion and I believed that to be definitive. [...] But eventually, I felt a kind of exhaustion with reason, which could not answer my questions. I decided to be open to non-rational suggestions: artistic and mystical experiences, encounters with sacred texts." That was how the philosopher became a writer and how this astonishingly fertile "myth-maker" took up the threads of the great founding fables to weave his endless tapestries. Described as a "chameleon story-teller", Schmitt fearlessly adopts the masks of Western culture's most prominent heroes and villains (fabulous figures from Don Juan to Faust and Ulysses; genii like Diderot, Mozart and Freud, or anti-heroes such as Pontius Pilate and Hitler) in order to explore life's essential concerns and create a utopian redemption, the aim being to make us reflect on evil. His latest protagonist, the rebellious teenager Jun, probably falls into the anti-hero camp, since he is obviously a long way from Oscar or Momo. Vulgar, selfish and troublesome, Jun has to hit rock-bottom to get the point where he can understand the old man, whom he first thought pathetic but who persists in telling this wafer-thin urchin of no fixed abode: "I can see a fat man in you". To turn such a good-for-nothing into a subtle master of Zen, you at least need to be called Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, alias Shomintsu, the old sage.
Source : L'Homme en Question, issue No. 23
Santé yoga - « Sumo »
...a profound but simple book that advocates trust, in kind of serene wager that only the unknown can make us see newness, purity and life.
Le Pèlerin - « How to become a Sumo wrestler »
... The author deploys all his talents as he skillfully takes the reader by the hand and guides him through this delightful novella. Never sententious and unfailingly profound, Schmitt's latest book continues the "Cycle de l'Invisible". Warning: reading this novel will not make you fatter, just wiser.
L'Hebdo (Suisse) - « Schmitt versus Coelho: fables about gurus »
...A philosopher-turned-writer, an atheist who became a mystic, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has now become "mythical": from Don Juan to Hamlet, from Jesus Christ to Freud, he revisits the essential myths of our culture. His hundred-page story about sumo wrestling is a masterpiece in the same vein.
It is a virtue to be so concise, and Coelho might learn much from Schmitt: instead of preaching well-known truths writ large, Schmitt has mastered the art of suggestion, with a Zen-like stroke of the pen.
Le Matin (Suisse) - « Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's Japanese novel »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's new book is a perfect gem. Fans and critics of his work are bound to unite in praise of "The Sumo Wrestler Who Could Not Get Fat", a spirited, poetic novella that sparkles with clarity and renewed energy, like a cool fountain in a Zen garden.
To say more would be to risk tarnishing a thing of beauty. Suffice it to say that in this new opus, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt returns to the philosophical fable familiar to readers from his earlier works, like Mr Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran or Oscar and the Lady in Pink. Interspersed with philosophical reflections that are by turns soothing or hard-hitting, he explores the themes of childhood and spirituality, the weight of the present and the yoke of the past, hidden dreams, and paralyzing despair. This delightful Japanese novella evokes with supreme elegance the spirit of Zen Buddhism.
The writing also shows a new maturity. It is denser, neater and more decisive, the style of a writer who has gained in efficacy and poetry.
Poised between cynicism and spirituality, this is a work of such poetic beauty that it makes one want to reread it as soon as the last page has been turned.
Le Soir (Belgique) - « EE Schmitt in Zen mode »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a fertile story-teller and he has added another book to his "Cycle de l'Invisible". This new movement, to use musical terminology, or fifth panel, as we might say of a polyptych, is about The Sumo Wrestler Who Could Not Get Fat.
Oscar, Noah's Child and Monsieur Ibrahim's young friend, Momo, now have a Japanese companion, Jun, an adolescent waif on the streets of Tokyo, who has an extraordinary spiritual adventure. "I didn't start out with the idea of a cycle", the author confides. "It occurred to me when Milarepa came out and someone thought I must be a Tibetan Buddhist to have written a book like that! So, I thought that, in order to explain my beliefs to myself and make sure I wasn't accused of sectarianism -- which I really don't think I'm capable of -- and to play fair with the reader, I ought to explore other realms of spirituality."
A handful of superb novellas followed and won tremendous popularity throughout the world, either as the original novel or as adaptations for the stage performed by first-class actors: Darrieux, Bir and Duperey starred in The Lady in Pink, and Michèle Laroque will appear in the film Schmitt himself has just directed. This new addition fully lives up to its predecessors. It familiarizes the reader with Zen Buddhism through the initiation of a teenager at loggerheads with everything and everyone but in whom a master sumo wrestler insists on seeing a "fat man" -- one of those chubby athletes considered, in the Land of the Rising Sun where leanness is the norm, to be powerhouses of strength, wisdom and beauty.
"All of us need someone to tell us who we are, someone who can see our potential. It happened to me very early on; someone spotted a talent I didn't know I had. I wanted to be a musician but they detected the writer in me; it came as a complete surprise to me. That revelation was one of the inspirations of the book. The other one was obviously Japan, which I discovered when my Enigma Variations was performed there. I describe the Zen garden exactly as I experienced it: in a kind of trance. It was one of the great moments of my life -- though I realize I'm easy prey to that sort of mystical effusion!"
To read The Sumo Wrester Who Could Not Get Fat is to experience something similar. As compact as a diamond and as taut as a bow, this short novel achieves the harmony to which Zen Buddhism aspires and ends with a momentous sentence that reads like a kind of satori. Schmitt the Philosopher and Schmitt the Teacher write with the talent of an Eastern artist. Not without justice, the book has been greeted as a "fictional haiku".
One further point: to the author's immense surprise, The Sumo Wrestler Who Could Not Get Fat has found an unsuspected use: "I get thank-you messages from parents who have given the book to anorexic children. The refusal to put on weight is the refusal to grow up, to live, basically. Personally, I didn't know I'd drawn the psychological portrait of an anorexic. It all goes to show that it's the readers who give meaning to one's writing."
DE DECKER, JACQUES
L'Express - « The sumo wrestling demo »
A simple story, a happy ending and lashings of humanism... Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's favourite cocktail never fails to entrance.
What makes Schmitt so popular? Like its predecessors, his latest mini-opus became a bestseller almost overnight and looks set to hold its place, until, no doubt, an actor in search of a monologue adapts it for the stage. Scaling the peaks of literary success, Schmitt has followed Milarepa, Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran and Oscar and the Lady in Pink with the story of a 15-year-old Japanese street trader whom a master sumo wrestler singles out despite the boy's lean physique. "I can see a fat man in you", he repeats. He turns him into a determined wrestler and, above all, a man, a disciple and a sage. The final revelation completes the family portrait, like the clouds that crown Fujiyama.
The secrets of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's success are all here: a happy ending and a thought-provoking climax; a simple story encased in an encounter and laced with humanist philosophy from Sufism to Zen; the mystery of a strange and foreign culture, which slowly unveils its treasures among the costume jewelry, and finally and above all, the morbid, perennial torments of childhood which are gradually put to rest. It's hard to imagine the subtle, sometimes soothing tone of the novel on stage, that realm of sound and fury.
Le Point - « « Schmittmania » »
Success. A slim volume of some hundred pages costing just 10 euros and posing as a long novella: this is a philosophical tale with something for everyone. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, a playwright performed across the globe, a best-selling novelist and now a film director, has tackled a series about the great religions.
Milarepa was about Buddhism; Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran concerned Sufism; Oscar and the Lady in Pink, Christianity, and Noah's Child, Judaism. The Sumo Wrestler Who Could Not Get Fat encapsulates the spirit of Zen Buddhism, with the adventures of Jun, a rebellious teenager who has run away from home and taken to the streets of Tokyo.
A master sumo wrestler gradually teaches him to accept and make peace with himself. Somehow, the seeds of love are sown and a vocation is born. Schmitt, a philosophy teacher with a gift for popularizing, narrates, explains and beguiles. His story is simple, complex, limpid and overwhelming all in the same measure. Everyone will find a reflection of himself here. In short, the reader can only applaud and ask for more.