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The Zorki Chronicles Paperback – November 5, 2013
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"A blend of political thriller and human drama, this book is a must-read for your politically engaged and socially passionate students as well as adults... I typically read several books a week and give myself permission to give up on a book if I'm not engaged by page 100. So with that volume of type flowing through my brain, it happens only once or twice a year that I am sad to put down a book when I reach the end; this is one of those books."- Kathie Jackson, PA School Librarians Association Best in Children's and YA Literature
Thoughtful reading that seamlessly blends fact, wit, and humor. This is a coming-of-age story with a strong, authentic voice. Recommended to high schools that cater to thoughtful readers and adult collections where nostalgic adults wonder if modern youth will ever be able to band together and rise up to create change as they did in the 1960s.
Lois McNicol and Hillary Welliver, Tri-State Young Adult Book Review Committee.
About the Author
Jersey City 1955. Wrote first sentence, "A baby is born," circa ’59. Beatles ’63. Summer of ’65 behind Iron Curtain (Czechoslovakia) and Italy. Michelangelo. Baseball no-hitter ’71. High school in a village with no stop lights. Basketball point guard. First job, assistant custodian. Time-Life Photography series. Muhammad Ali. Weight lifting. Hemingway. Mailer. Vonnegut. Europe. College. Quit college. Landscaper. College. Europe. Night shift A&P. Drug and alcohol caseworker. Law School: 3 days. Began writing short stories. Peru. Springsteen. Kerouac. Gary Snyder. Buddhism. Three-mile Island. Drove USA coast-to-coast solo 72 hours. Began teaching ’80. Einstein on the Beach. Married ’81. David Byrne. Lynda Barry. Poetry. Len Roberts. Vegan ’83. Modern Art. Boxing with Earnee Butler. Photography with Larry Fink. New Body Electric project ’88 -‘94. R.E.M. Outsider Art. VW camper, Colorado, West coast, Canada. Morrissey. Clash. Photo documentary, demolition derby ’95 – present. Librarian. Photography instructor. 4N. Y2K. 9/11. Moved/restored Civil War era barn. Published Crash Burn Love ’05. Knee operation. India ’09. Opera. Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Twain. The Zorki Chronicles 2013. Bill Lowenburg is the author of the critically-acclaimed monograph, Crash Burn Love: Demolition Derby. His photographs and articles have been published internationally by Popular Photography, PBS Point of View, BBC Top Gear, and Slate.com, among others. A two-time Norman Mailer Society Scholarship recipient, Bill was a researcher on the authorized biography, Norman Mailer: A Double Life. Bill has Masters degrees in Social Studies education and Library Science, and an MFA in Creative Writing. He lives and teaches in Stroudsburg, PA.
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Set in what *could be* contemporary America, THE ZORKI CHRONICLES is a tender, poignant bildungsroman. How does a young adult today maintain a sense of hope and love of life amidst a world filled with materialism, greed, drugs, social media that has replaced face-to-face interaction, the troubles in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the threat of nuclear war, predator drones, the possible reinstitution of the draft, homelessness, joblessness, economic uncertainty, and the idiocy of Common Core? ZORKI takes place in mythical Pocono Flats--a Pennsylvania rust belt post-industrial town where storefronts are boarded up, a homeless shanty crouches near a Starbucks, a billboard broadcasts the national terrorist threat in real time, condoms are emblazoned with advertisements, and the flashing, broken windows of an abandoned coal breaker seem to watch from the horizon like the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg. Only miles away from Pocono Flats, Centralia (a once prosperous, real town in PA that has been evacuated and its zip code retired because of unextinguishable fires raging in abandoned deep mines) provides a perfect metaphor for the dystopia that America could be headed to like (as my father would have said) "hell in a handbasket."
Yet, Miles Parker does survive amidst all this homegrown cultural, social, and political terror, in this world defined by fear. In fact, he thrives. This is a book about hope and ideals, about personal salvation, about living for art and with respect and integrity. Beautifully written, fully realized, and with a charming first-person narrative voice as compelling as Holden Caulfield's, ZORKI is a book for all ages.
Gandhi is credited for saying, “Those who know how to think need no teachers.” Likewise, the opening line of Bill Lowenburg’s The Zorki Chronicles recites a maxim coined by Mark Twain: “Never let school interfere with your education.” Both Gandhi and Lowenburg ask us to look into information as well as at it, and there is no better time for a rallying cry of this sort than today.
The Zorki Chronicles is narrated by its male protagonist, Miles Parker, a high school senior in a sleepy small town on the outskirts of the long-distance bedroom communities of those who commute to New York City. The fictional town, Pocono Flats, is Anytown, USA where the heartbeat of the American Dream is most clearly showing signs of atrial fibrillation.
Lowenburg develops several plot lines including the adventures of Miles and his friend/ mentor Bird Cookenbaker, as well as Miles’ friendship and blossoming love interest in Katie Tran, a classmate of Miles, and the sister of one of his closest friends, Ronnie Tran. The odds of working it out with Katie are lower than the success rate of a Hail Mary play given that she is dating Miles’ former teammate and now college freshman, Tony Gillespie. Tony is the big wheel of Pocono Flats who rose to stardom last year as the team’s quarterback and his family owns the area’s casino. Complicating Miles’ senior year is his decision to walk away from sports entirely, much to the disappointment of his peers, teachers, and community. With an arm bearing more accuracy than a drone strike, Miles was sure to lead the Pocono Flats Canaries to victory this season.
Silently retreating from the spotlight, Miles is in the position to observe and reflect, which he capitalizes upon brilliantly once he takes an interest in an old Russian Zorki camera and learning the art of photography with the help of his zany reclusive mentor, Harry Zink. As Miles learns to see the world through a new lens, he is also able to develop a better sense of himself. He focuses on becoming a better human by reaching out to the town’s vagrant, Glen, corresponding with a lonely and misguided peer, Angie Belmar, struggling to maintain his new Vegan diet, and standing by his first amendment rights without kowtowing to authority figures, even when that means going toe to toe with the United States Secret Service.
It’s no coincidence that Miles spends most of his senior year in the Coal Hole, the pseudonym of Pocono Flats’ version of an in-school suspension room. Aptly named given the town’s proximity to the mining towns of yore, Lowenburg illustrates the ironies surrounding Miles’ battles with bumbling authority figures with a sense of wit that is on par with Dickens. Isolated from the classroom, Miles uses the time to truly educate himself by reading, writing, and conversing with his former football coach, Coach K. He finds solace in time spent with quirky teachers, Miss Ciazzo and Polachek, whose unwavering support foster the development of Miles’ voice and the preservation of his creativity.
As often as he can, Miles hops on his bike and explores the sites of his town. From exploring the houses abandoned to foreclosure in Heaven’s Meadow, to the dilapidated coal breaker, to the underground fire still burning in the coal mines of the abandoned town, Centralia, Miles shows us what happens to small towns when the big businesses exhaust the land’s resources then pack up and move out. The desolate landscapes mirror the quietude of Miles’ own home occupied primarily only by himself and a stray cat he names Jack. Miles’ enduring hope stems from his realization that “You can feel abandoned, or you can regard yourself as free.”
In the backdrop of this quiet setting lurks the war with Afghanistan, where Ronnie has been serving since his own graduation, and the invasion of Pakistan. Throughout Miles’ senior year, Miles must negotiate the pitfalls of an absentee father, a dystopian school environment, and the jingoistic nature of President Peltz, who is campaigning to reinstate the draft. Miles observes his friend Teddy’s recruitment into the armed forces via the “poverty draft” after four years at Pocono Flats yields no other options that are more lucrative.
Hoping for financial independence, Miles busts his hump working the night shift at a truck stop coffee shop where he encounters travelers from every path converging at the crossroads of America for a quick stop before continuing on their own journeys. It is here that Miles learns from a journalist for the Times about the upcoming peace rally in New York City and decides to embark on his own adventure. With Katie and Bird in tow, the trio travels into New York City for a trip that changed the course of their lives. Ultimately, Miles comes to realize, “When you stop trying to be the person you believe the world thinks you’re supposed to be, you’ll find out who you are.”
The Zorki Chronicles captures an America that has been caught up in the brutal cycle of the consumption and regurgitation of its youth since former President Kennedy appealed to them to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” As our nation’s War on Terror evolves to encompass more vaguely defined enemies, Lowenburg’s The Zorki Chronicles compels readers to “ask not what your country can do for you” rather “ask what your country is doing.”