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Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room [Kindle Edition]

Geoff Dyer
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From a writer whose mastery encompasses fiction, criticism, and the fertile realm between the two, comes a new book that confirms his reputation for the unexpected.

In Zona, Geoff Dyer attempts to unlock the mysteries of a film that has haunted him ever since he first saw it thirty years ago: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. (“Every single frame,” declared Cate Blanchett, “is burned into my retina.”) As Dyer guides us into the zone of Tarkovsky’s imagination, we realize that the film is only the entry point for a radically original investigation of the enduring questions of life, faith, and how to live.

In a narrative that gives free rein to the brilliance of Dyer’s distinctive voice—acute observation, melancholy, comedy, lyricism, and occasional ill-temper—Zona takes us on a wonderfully unpredictable journey in which we try to fathom, and realize, our deepest wishes.

Zona is one of the most unusual books ever written about film, and about how art—whether a film by a Russian director or a book by one of our most gifted contemporary writers—can shape the way we see the world and how we make our way through it.

Editorial Reviews


“Testifying to the greatness of an underappreciated work of art is the core purpose of criticism, and Dyer has delivered a loving example that's executed with as much care and craft as he finds in his subject…he finds elements along the way that will keep even non-cinéastes onboard. While he dedicates ample energy to how the movie's deliberate pacing runs contrary to modern cinema, its troubled production and the nuts and bolts of its deceptively simple parts, Dyer's rich, restless mind draws the reader in with specific, personal details.” –Los Angeles Times   
“Dyer’s evocation of Stalker is vivid; his reading is acute and sometimes brilliant…Dyer is giving a performance, and it’s another Russian genius who presides over his book, namely Vladimir Nabokov…Zona is extremely clever.” –New York Times Book Review

“Walter Benjamin once said that every great work dissolves a genre or founds a new one. But is it only masterpieces that have a monopoly on novelty? What if a writer had written several works that rose to Benjamin’s high definition, not all great, perhaps, but so different from one another, so peculiar to their author, and so inimitable that each founded its own, immediately self-dissolving genre? The English writer Geoff Dyer delights in producing books that are unique, like keys. There is nothing anywhere like Dyer’s semi-fictional rhapsody about jazz, But Beautiful, or his book about the First World War, The Missing of the Somme, or his autobiographical essay about D. H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage, or his essayistic travelogue, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do it. Dyer’s work is so restlessly various that it moves somewhere else before it can gather a family.  He combines fiction, autobiography, travel writing, cultural criticism, literary theory, and a kind of comic English whining. The result ought to be a mutant mulch but is almost always a louche and canny delight.”—James Wood, The New Yorker

“The multifarious writer’s scene-by-scene dissection of cinematic meditation Stalker eveolves into a series of colorful digressions about the nature of time, youth, infatuation with great art, threesomes and one irreplaceable Freitag bag. Remarkably, this lucid trip is effective whether or not you’ve seen Tarkovsky.” –Time Out New York Best of 2012 

“There is no contemporary writer I admire more than Dyer, and in no book of his does he address his animating idea—The Only Way Not to Waste Time Is to Waste It—more overtly, urgently, empathetically and eloquently.” David Shields, author of Reality Hunger

“A national treasure.” –Zadie Smith  
“One of my favorite of all contemporary writers.” –Alain de Botton
“I’d never engaged quite so intensively with a book and a movie at the same time…Though it’s only 228 pages long, Zona manages to feel sprawling. Dyer is an enormously seductive writer. He has a wide-ranging intellect, an effortless facility with language, and a keen sense of humor…irresistible.” –Slate

“A true original…[Dyer] never ceases to surprise, disturb and delight.” –William Boyd

“Few books about film feel like watching a film, but this one does. We sit with Dyer as he writes about Stalker; he captures its mystery and burnish, he prises it open and gets its glum majesty. As a result of this book, I know the film better, and care about Tarkovsky even more.” Mark Cousins, author of The Story of Film

“Dyer, blessed with limitless range and a ravishing ability to bend and blend genres, is coming out with a peculiar little book about a 30-year obsession…the result is an entertaining and enlightening joy.” –The Millions

“A personal meditation on Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker—though, this being a Dyer book, it’s about plenty more besides…A digressive but impassioned mash note to a film that defies easy summary.” –Kirkus

“The pleasures of reading Dyer are found in personal asides that connect his ostensible subject to a myriad of tangential subjects... Dyer's lightly carried erudition leads to an entertaining rumination on a cinematic masterpiece.” –Shelf Awareness    
“A pellucid scene-by-scene ramble through Tarkovsky’s sci-fi head trip, alive to the film’s textures as much as its ideas…so addictive. The pleasure of Zona lies in Dyer’s method, in its constant sense of discovery, as if he had just stumbled out of a screening and was sharing his thoughts with you after a beer or three…a marvel of tactility.” –
Dyer’s language is at its most efficient in this book, conversational and spare…Mr. Dyer is our Stalker. He guides us through the film, imbuing each shot with meaning or explaining why, in some instances, their nonmeaning is actually better than meaning… Cultural artifacts worthy of this degree of obsession are rare and it’s a pleasure to read Mr. Dyer’s wrestling with one.” –New York Observer 

“Dyer is at his digressive best when stopping to consider something that captures his fancy…The comedy and stoner’s straining for meaning is always present. And, when it is rewarded, as it so often is with rich associative memoir and creative criticism in Zona, we feel complicit, we celebrate the sensation at the end of all that straining, alongside with him…For a stalker, or an artist, it is essential to step out of the shadow of your mentor. As a writer, Dyer commits this artistic patricide regularly and more elegantly than most. He does it by writing all the way up to his heroes, documenting his approach to their material, wrestling with them, and leaving this totemic memento at their feet. The mentorship is concluded along with the book and he is free to go off in search of new Rooms, and new Stalkers to take him there.” –Daily Beast 

“Dyer’s Zona makes an impenetrable film accessible and relateable.” –New York Magazine
“It's fascinating to see [Dyer] take on this master of stillness, timelessness and heavy self-regard. Consciousnesses collide, overlap, meld—and if nothing else, the book is a mesmerizing mashup of sensibilities…Dyer remains a uniquely relevant voice. In his genre-jumping refusal to be pinned down, he's an exemplar of our era. And invariably, he leaves you both satiated and hungry to know where he's going next.” –
“Geoff Dyer is at his discursive best in ZONA.” —Stephen Heyman, New York Times Magazine

“Rich with dramatic nuance but sparse on action, the film moves slowly, methodically, but Dyer breezily free associates and his diversions and frank admissions candied with self-deprecation tunnel into your own thoughts. In doing so, the book transcends being an examination of a film or an established author’s confessional, anecdotal indulgence…Again and again Dyer’s caroming thoughts trigger your own associative leaps that take you away from Dyer’s text. But it works. What is memorable about this particular reading experience is that even if you’ve never given a second thought to quicksand, tried LSD, or watched The Wizard of Oz (Dyer hasn’t), his read of Stalker permits you to square your life with a film that you may or may not know anything about.” –The
“If any film demands book-length explication from a writer of Geoff Dyer's caliber, it's surely Stalker…Dyer is, as the book amply demonstrates, the perfect counterpart to Tarkovsky. Where the film director is stubbornly slow and obscure, Dyer is a fleet and amusing raconteur with a knack for amusing digressions…budding Tarkovskyites might understandably wish they could buy a copy of Dyer's Zona bundled with an exquisitely restored version of Stalker.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Dyer has been just under the radar for many years now, but this UK author deserves the widest of audiences as he writes books that are funny, off-beat and hugely informative. This latest is ostensibly about the Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky, but it's really about life, love and death—with many jokes and painful-but-true bits along the way.” –Details Magazine
[Dyer] combines a rigorous scholarship and criticism with whimsical digressions, both fictional and autobiographical, to create the light but heady concoction that’s become his signature.” –Time Out NY
Zona is an unpretentious yet deeply involving discussion of why art can move us, and an examination of how our relationship to art changes throughout our lives. It's also funny, moving and unlike any other piece of writing about a movie.” –Huffington Post

“An unclassifiable little gem…very funny and very personal.” –San Francisco Chronicle  
“You can read this book in 162 minutes and come away refreshed, enlivened, infuriated, amused, thoughtful, and mystified. An invigorating mixture of responses, but this is a Geoff Dyer book…the most stimulating book on a film in years.” –New Republic

“It's hard to understand why a major publisher would release a book-length study of And...

About the Author

Geoff Dyer is the author of four novels (most recently Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi); a critical study of John Berger; a collection of essays, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition; and five highly original nonfiction books, including But Beautiful, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and Out of Sheer Rage, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He lives in London.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1505 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 21, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004X6PS1I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #594,215 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
80 of 96 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull and pointless March 1, 2012
By Clemens
I came to this book as a Tarkovsky fan, and as a fan of Stalker in particular, so I was thrilled to discover an author who had taken on a book length study of the film. Unfortunately, that's not really what this slight volume turned out to be. As Dyer (who I was previously unfamiliar with) notes, it's essentially just a scene-by-scene summary of Stalker, generously peppered with personal anecdotes and asides of varying degrees of relevancy. Describing the film rather than discussing it is a hallmark of bad film writing, so I'm not sure what to think of an author who readily aknowledges this around midway through doing just that. Detailed plot summaries haven't been useful or in any way necessary since before the advent of home video. And it seems unlikely that anyone unfamiliar with the film would find much of interest in the book. The whole exercise feels self-indulgent and--to put it bluntly--slightly stupid.

Dyer delights in revealing his bias against cinema's most revered giants--he has no patience for Bresson or Bergman, Godard is dimissed as irrelevant, and he goes on at length about how much he detests Antonioni's l'Avventura. Some contemporary filmmakers are hauled out for a bit of snark for good measure: The oddest bit of criticism here is when the Coen brothers are labeled as "witless." On the other hand, Quentin Tarantino is singled out for praise on a few occasions, and cited as one of the rare filmmakers who is doing "something new," a laughable claim that even the most ardent Tarantino fan knows is untrue.

If I hadn't first looked at the author photo, I'd have guessed that Dyer was half his actual age. The Tarantino stuff, the strained references to lowbrow pop culture artifacts (Bumfights? really?
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, an outlaw and holy fool leads a Writer and a Professor through the perilous Zone, where they hope to be granted their deepest wish. In the end, though, both discover they may not want to know what it is they most want, and the Stalker despairs for the future of his navigating art. The film itself, however, continues to fascinate and a large part of Dyer's project in this work is to explore the power this film has exerted over him. In the process he develops a quite compelling interpretation of the film and its broader implications regarding life and art and hope, that can at the same time feel somewhat like a highbrow version of Mystery Science Theater, whose critics obviously love what they're laughing at (or with). I know I couldn't put it down - Dyer writes well and is easy to read, and manages to make even difficult insights feel straightforward and fresh. Even more, it brought the film back to life for me, and made me think things about it I hadn't considered any of the several times I've seen it.

I'm not sure there are any books out there this can quite be compared to. Dyer may have invented a new genre, and one that on the basis of this book at least can be said to have a lot of promise. It's not quite criticism or scholarship - even if it's clear that Dyer's done his homework and read pretty much everything there is to read about Tarkovsky's work, and seen or heard about pretty much every major cultural reference to Stalker that has appeared.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating record of personal taste March 2, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I enjoyed Geoff Dyer's "Zona" as a film buff myself and a Tarkovsky fan, as in the present age of ultra-technical, academic writing, one is hard put to find a record of one man's sheer enthusiasm for a film, an enthusiasm I share. The film is indeed like a series of paintings passing one by, every visual itself a still. This is made more remarkable by the bleak, dystopic vision Tarkovsky is creating. As one talented writer's meditation on life and art I love the book.

On the other hand Dyer gets bogged down in his own adolescent views of cinema which are bound to make some devotees of film a bit confused. He had a "difficult time" getting through Robert Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest" but found a new mecca in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction". Godard and Bergman are dull and ponderous to him. Perhaps he is as idiosyncratic as Tarkvosky seemed to be with his taste in film, as the famous director once praised "The Terminator" which Arnold Schwarzenneger as a "vision of the future and the relation between man and its destiny is pushing the frontier of cinema as an art". Obsessing over the last scene in the film with the spitting on the Bringer of Hope (a great scene indeed) he fails to mention throughout the entire book that Tarkovsky's movies quickly turn towards an explicitly religious faith.

All these formidable flaws taken into account, I liked it quite a bit. If we had more talents like Dyer writing about their personal tastes in such an innovative style we might have a better glimpse into how the mind of a true artist works.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars then it became really boring. It's a non subject
Dyer is a clever writer, but this book is a dud in my opinion. The first ten pages drew me in, then it became really boring. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Theresa Twain
5.0 out of 5 stars Cultural flaneur of the impossible quest
Zona, Geoff Dyer's `book about a film (about a journey to a room') by Tarkovsky, reminded me of Out Of Sheer Rage, a book about the failure to write an academic book of criticism... Read more
Published 3 months ago by technoguy
4.0 out of 5 stars A true gift for any "Stalker" friend.
Too good to be true? I thought I was part of a too tiny minority to deserve a dedicated love story book about the "Stalker" movie. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Nils Andreas Masvie
1.0 out of 5 stars Rather than deepening one's appreciation of STALKER, Dyer lures...
Seeing Andrei Tarkovsky's 1977 film STALKER, where the eponymous guide leads his charges to a room in the wasteland called the "Zone" (the aftermath of a meteor strike? Read more
Published 15 months ago by Christopher Culver
1.0 out of 5 stars Lao Tzu and I are vomiting!!!!!!!!!!!
Finished every page and note in the book with patience and care...this book is horrifically misguided and superficial. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Wendy Willowby
2.0 out of 5 stars Can't get into it
It's on the shelf after a good try to get into it. I thought Geoff was trying too hard. Oh well.
Published 24 months ago by George Helland
1.0 out of 5 stars So, so bad
So dull, so self-congratulatory, so flatly written, so lacking in insight. All the (barely) tolerable moments involve Dyer cribbing from those "academic" authors for whom he... Read more
Published on May 9, 2013 by ardilla
2.0 out of 5 stars Strange Title--Strange Novel
I love films. I watch them, study them. I even act in them. So, I really wanted to read "Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room" by Geoff Dyer. Read more
Published on May 4, 2013 by Jeffrey N. Fritz
4.0 out of 5 stars Another view
Stalker has been one of my favorite films I was just memorized by the contrast and blackness of the opening scene it is like a painting brought to life. Read more
Published on April 20, 2013 by Kippoe
4.0 out of 5 stars Encompasses history, myth and a fantastical journey that only art can...
Dyer claims that a work of art that changes your DNA can only be experienced at a young age, typically in your teens or twenties and can not happen later in life. Read more
Published on April 1, 2013 by Noovella
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More About the Author

Geoff Dyer is the author of four novels and six other nonfiction books, including But Beautiful, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and Out of Sheer Rage, which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. The winner of a Lannan Literary Award, the International Centre of Photography's 2006 Infinity Award for writing on photography, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' E. M. Forster Award, Dyer is a regular contributor to many publications in the US and UK. He lives in London. For more information visit Geoff Dyer's official website:

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