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Zazen Paperback – May 22, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Red Lemonade; 1ST edition (May 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781935869054
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935869054
  • ASIN: 1935869051
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Vanessa Veselka is something like a literary comet: bright-burning, far-reaching, rarely seen, and a little dangerous.—Tom Bissell

At turns hilarious, unsettling, and improbably sweet, Veselka's debut is, above all, a highly engaging, and totally unique experience, which will have you re-reading passages and dog-earing pages. But best of all, in the end, Zazen is that rare novel which dares to be hopeful in the face of despair, and succeeds.—Jonathan Evison, author of All About Lulu and West of Here

[A] taut...Veselka's prose is chiseled and laced with arsenic observations...Veselka makes a case for hope and meaning amid sheer madness.—Publishers Weekly

From the Inside Flap


When there is nothing left to burn, Della sets herself on fire. At twenty-seven, she is stuck in the far corner of a parallel America on the verge of collapse, splitting time slinging tofu scramble at the local vegan-friendly diner and counting down the days until the impending birth of her brother Credence’s twins forces her out of his house’s leaky attic apartment. She collects pictures of historic self-immolators and stares out the skylight of her room while TVs from across the sprawl spew war reports and Presidential battle plans. A breakdown a few years back has sent splinters through her buzzing mind, though something in her still hums with a mercurial urgency, flittering back and forth between fight and flight. Many of those close to her shuffle through the shallow rebellions – hair dye, sex parties, gluttonous self-absorption – of an ineffective counterculture, and while others join the growing people leaving their country behind for a life of escape and “eco-tourism,” something quiet in her whispers the need to stay. But those bombs keep inching closer, thudding deep and real between the sounds of katydids fluttering in the still of the city night, and the destruction begins to excite her. What begins as terror threats called in to greasy bro-bars across the block boils over into a desperate plot, intoxicating and captivating Della and leaving her little chance for escape.

Zazen unfolds as a search for clarity soured by irresolution and catastrophe, yet made vital by the thin, wild veins of imagination run through each escalating moment, tensing and relaxing, unfurling and ensnaring. Vanessa Veselka renders Della and her world with beautiful, freighting, and phantasmagorically intelligent accuracy, crafting from their shattered constitutions a perversely perfect mirror for our own selves and state.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 27 customer reviews
In the meantime, I hope Ms. Veselka will adapt it as a screenplay.
Nicole A. Carson
That is to say, she shows us with her own bones and flesh, in the form of a singular voice.
Raw
Fresh, witty and brittle, Veselka's unique voice carries the reader through every page.
Nick Nicholson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Richard E. Melo on April 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
When I saw video from the Japanese tsunami, it struck me how badly Hollywood gets it wrong when it comes to depicting disasters. Hollywood always shows bystanders standing in awe or running away hysterical, while the Japanese video showed people looking so sad at the sight of ocean waves flowing through their city streets. It's that kind of emotional realism that drives Zazen, and what sets Vanessa Veselka apart from other novelists setting their stories in post-911 `life during wartime'-style landscapes.

The novel is from the point of view of Della, a invertebrate paleontologist working as a waitress and who is obsessed by cases of self-immolation. Living under the anxiety of a pending war and bombs going off around the city, Della asks store employees to page her sister (who died years earlier) and starts calling in bomb threats to places around town. It's a bent view of reality the novel creates, and you never know how much of it is Della's creation. (Veselka is remarkably gifted at showing a warped world anchored by emotional realism.)

The bombings create a sense of community, though less with among the victims than those responsible, and after falling in with a crew of Baader-Meinhof type radicals, Della is pulled in different directions: alienation in one extreme and and connectedness in the other. She is also ineffectual at almost everything she tries, whether it's leaving town or convincing the person on the other end of the phone that her bomb threat is real.

It's a novel that reads like a tightly wound rock `n' roll record, its world comes across like a Twilight Zone episode that keeps getting weirder and weirder, and ultimately, it's a story about how hard it is to set yourself on fire.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By novel*addict on April 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's not every writer who can be this funny and also draw a clear-eyed portrait of a crumbling world. Veselka's characters worry about whether to be vegan or vegetarian, and they plan elaborate parties. Meanwhile, bombs fall just outside the frame of the story. The main character, Della, is sensitive enough to be driven crazy by the contradictions of her life and sane enough to be sympathetic.
If you're on the prowl for your next really good read, this novel deserves your attention.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By jes5199 on April 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Somehow, this book is simultaneously a funny story about someone leaving an academic ivory tower to join an over-the-top hipster/hippie subculture, and an intensely emotional portrait of the unsettling feeling you get when you think too hard about whether our modern society is going to survive (and whether it should be allowed to.)
Veselka's voice (as the narrator Della) has a lyrical but gritty quality that makes everything seem both startling and familiar.
I'm having trouble capturing this in a review, but so if you're curious, try googling for the serialized version of the story that appeared in an online magazine, or for the youtube videos of the author reading excerpts.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Raw on May 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
Zazen is a novel that looks without flinching at the special terrors of our times.

Yes, there are bombs. But that's not what I'm talking about. Lives are in danger, and limbs, but what's most imperilled in Della's narrative world is its soul. Nobody knows what this means; we struggle, we have struggled, we always will struggle - especially in our best books, our bravest songs - to untangle the chaos of desires and ethics and politics and overblown, blown-out powers and hopes that swirl in and around our beings in any given place and time. What makes Zazen such a powerful and important work is that it confronts the timeless, essential human questions - how to live? what to do? whether to fear? how to love? - within the distinct setting of the 21st-century urban global-industrial-capitalist terrorism-haunted American Pacific Northwest. And this world is envisioned by Della with a rare and phenomenal voice and vision, like a dirty diamond lit from within.

Throughout Zazen, Veselka's Della Mylinek blasts a searchlight into some of the darkest corners of a world that is sometimes uncomfortably familiar. In her narrative we recognize spectres of our own emaciated hopes and hollow disappointments, as they slink away into cracks in community-garden beds or between worn floorboards at the local food co-op. We know we're broken, however hard we try to be whole; but Della shows us where and how we break, with surgical precision and fiercely generous wit like nothing seen before. That is to say, she shows us with her own bones and flesh, in the form of a singular voice.

I wish to hell this book had existed when I was seventeen.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Zazen" is an amazing achievement. I found myself grinning frequently whilst reading. The author's insightful swipe at John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen had me in tears of pure joy that I had difficulty explaining to those around me. I love everything about this book.

Through her use of the first-person, her female characters with male (red-neck) names, her encyclopedic knowledge of all things yoga and vegan, her love of rats, and fly-oil burning Mercedes, Vanessa Veselka has won my heart forever and ever.

Read this book. It will make you happy.
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