Caitlin's Reviews > Zazen

Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
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's review
Sep 03, 11

bookshelves: fave-female-writers
Read from August 01 to September 03, 2011

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but I ended up loving this when I had finished. Veselka is a gorgeous writer, with a slight stream of consciousness style that never feels forced. It’s more like she’s just writing everything she sees and feels down in a rush and it’s almost breath-taking.

The novel is set in a stark future that doesn’t seem far off, with talk of a war (it’s really never said exactly where the war is or who is fighting it or why). Bombs go off everywhere. And Della is a newly graduated paleontologist who has just defended her dissertation and doesn’t know where to go from here. The book focuses on the hippie lifestyle (totally lentilcentral), queer politics, transcendentalism, and anarchy.

Maybe I related to Della so much because I’m nearing the end of my graduate school career, and even though I’m applying for jobs, I still feel a little lost and unsure. We’re surrounded by so many realities, but it is hard to choose just one. We want to do something admirable, something revolutionary, something that will change the way things are, but we don’t know where to begin or even what to do. It all sounds kind of hopeless, but I promise it’s not… there seems to be a spark of optimism in Della, even when she’s at her lowest as though she doesn’t want to believe this is really it.

When she does try to change things, she learns a lot about herself. She calls in bomb threats, but one day the threats come true. Della figures out what’s going on, but her priorities become threatened and she must choose.

My favorite part of the novel is in the acknowledgments, which sums up the book perfectly: the author writes of her daughter who has “lost many evenings of my attention […] Once, when [my daughter] Violet was five, she asked me about Della and what she was like. I said Della was afraid that the world was full of sadness and that everything beautiful just got hurt. Violet looked at me for a second then said, “Yeah, but Della’s wrong”“.

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