Three titles inaugurate a new series of short paperbacks offering meditations on the author’s face.
The series was inspired by a passage from Jorge Luis Borges, whose parable finds a man establishing his own world “with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.” These three book-length essays examine the face as bloodline and lineage, as a mask as permeable as identity. Each is a memoir of sorts, though more of a metaphysical illumination in the case of Ozeki (A Tale for the Time-Being, 2013, etc.), a novelist who is also ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest. Hers, titled A Time Code, is the first and longest and is structured as a three-hour meditation of the author looking in the mirror and recording the ruminations that her reflection conjures. Connecting with the inspiration of Borges, she begins with the Zen koan, “What did your face look like before your parents were born?” Her face reflects her parentage, as the daughter of an American professor and the Japanese woman with whom he fell in love so shortly after the nations had been enemies. Ozeki remembers her face in girlhood and now contemplates it on the cusp of 60, concluding, “my face is and isn’t me. It’s a nice face. It has lots of people in it.” In Cartography of the Void, Abani (The Secret History of Las Vegas, 2014, etc.) also comes to terms with his mixed parentage—white mother and West African father—as he attempts to resolve his ambivalence toward the latter, whose face is now his. With Strangers on a Pier, Aw offers the most straightforward account—and the one least focused on “the face”—of the immigrant family’s experience as their son was raised in “a traditional Chinese family” before he moved to Britain for an education that launched a literary career (Five Star Billionaire, 2013, etc.).
Saving face, face value, and putting on a brave face will all resonate differently with readers of this quirky, philosophical series.