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The Face: A Time Code (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Wow. This short memoir by one of my favorite authors reflects on  so much more than what she sees in the mirror. The questions that this lyrical meditation brings up makes you see the world differently.

— From Shannon's Picks


“Ruth Ozeki, a Zen Buddhist priest, sets herself the task of staring at her face in a mirror for three full, uninterrupted hours; her ruminations ripple out from personal and familial memories to wise and honest meditations on families and aging, race and the body.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

What did your face look like before your parents were born? In The Face: A Time Code, bestselling author and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki recounts, in moment-to-moment detail, a profound encounter with memory and the mirror. According to ancient Zen tradition, “your face before your parents were born” is your true face. Who are you? What is your true self? What is your identity before or beyond the dualistic distinctions, like father/mother and good/evil, that define us?

With these questions in mind, Ozeki challenges herself to spend three hours gazing into her own reflection, recording her thoughts, and noticing every possible detail. Those solitary hours open up a lifetime's worth of meditations on race, aging, family, death, the body, self doubt, and, finally, acceptance. In this lyrical short memoir, Ozeki calls on her experience of growing up in the wake of World War II as a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian American; of having a public face as an author; of studying the intricate art of the Japanese Noh mask; of being ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest; and of her own and her parents’ aging, to paint a rich and utterly unique portrait of a life as told through a face.

Alternately philosophical, funny, personal, political, and poetic, the short memoirs in The Face series offer unique perspectives from some of our favorite writers. Find out more at

About the Author

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest. Her first two novels, My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003), have been translated into 11 languages and published in fourteen countries. Her most recent work, A Tale for the Time-Being (2013), was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been published in over thirty countries. A longtime Buddhist practitioner, Ruth ordained in 2010 and is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation. She lives in British Columbia and New York City.

Praise For…

“Ruth Ozeki, a Zen Buddhist priest, sets herself the task of staring at her face in a mirror for three full, uninterrupted hours; her ruminations ripple out from personal and familial memories to wise and honest meditations on families and aging, race and the body.”
— Patricia Hagen

“This long essay, like the experiment it describes, is strange in the best sense, plus funny, moving and deeply wise.”
— Porter Shreve

The Face, as with the best of literary nonfiction, incorporates elements of memoir and essay, conjecture and meditation, allowing the reader to accompany each author as he or she creates a text that is utterly unique and universally affecting. Each book, on its own, is quirky, funny, sad, and profound; taken together, they have much to tell us about the culture at large, the ties that bind, and the truth — painful, hopeful, reassuring, provocative — of our place on the continuum as daughters, sons, and citizens. It’s a brilliant idea: give a bunch of good writers a prompt that is at once personal and political, and you’re bound to send readers running to the mirror, turning this way and that in an effort to reckon with who they are and who they want to be.”
— Dinah Lenney

“Throughout Ozeki’s essay her refreshing and cultivated wisdom leads us through the mind of a compassionate, grounded human and a writer of real integrity.”
— Melody Nixon

“One of the most compelling through-lines is not surprisingly the problematics of a mixed race upbringing . . . It is fascinating to hear about Ozeki’s life . . . Ozeki squarely considers the thorny politics around aging and questions of beauty. Here, Ozeki ponders the kinds of decisions that go into things like plastic surgery and an author’s publicity photo. As always, Ozeki injects humor into her prose, a characteristic of all of her earlier publications, making this reading experience undoubtedly captivating.”
— Stephen Hong Sohn

“I couldn’t help but marvel at Ruth Ozeki’s willingness to undertake the experiment that, moment by moment, she records in her book…. It’s remarkable to see how far this river journey takes her…. In an honest and unadorned way, as Ruth Ozeki dares to stare at her own aging and unadorned face, she simultaneously dares to share with the reader her own mind’s foundering in dislike and like. And because she dares to stay with the foundering—whether what she sees is unbearable, beautiful, or somewhere in between—the mind’s essential peace, her own original face, keeps shining through.”
— Noelle Oxenhandler

“What stories can a face tell? This is the premise of The Face series from Restless Books, in which authors write an essay using their face as a focal point. Sound crazy? Well wait till you hear how Ruth Ozeki, Zen Buddhist priest and novelist, decided to stare at her face for three uninterrupted hours as the inspiration behind her book. Through this exercise of ‘immersive attention,’ Ozeki writes a fascinating essay-memoir on heritage, ancestors and aging.”
— Sarah Ládíp?` Manyika

“Fascinating.… Intriguing.… This is certainly a very different type of autobiography, and a welcome one at that.… Written in Ozeki's inimitably calming and charming style, there is nothing more to say except that this little book is a delight from start to finish. If you've ever read and loved any of Ozeki's works, you won't want to miss getting to know her better. I'm giving it five out of five stars.”
— Davida Charzan
Product Details
ISBN: 9781632060525
ISBN-10: 1632060523
Publisher: Restless Books
Publication Date: March 2016
Pages: 144
Language: English
Series: The Face