Lena's Reviews > Zazen

Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
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's review
Apr 21, 12

bookshelves: fiction

Zazen is a novel set in an slightly alternate reality, a place where Portlandia quirkiness takes on a dark edge in a nation bracing for the onslaught of an impending war.

The story is told to us by Della, a PhD paleontologist who, after leaving school under unexplained circumstances, finds herself living with her brother and his pregnant partner in a rainy, bridge crossed city where consumerism has been elevated to a religion and riot police and curfews are used primarily to ensure shopping can continue uninterrupted.

Della attempts to anchor herself in this new reality of bomb threats and rapidly emigrating fellow citizens by taking a job at a vegetarian restaurant. It is here that the book starts and we first get a sense of Della's astoundingly unique voice.

That voice is what drew me into this book. Della is unlike any narrator I have had before - sharp and witty, very smart, tinged with sadness and a hint of instability. As she becomes more involved with the people she meets through the restaurant and gets deeper in with a group of countercultural radicals who are interested in doing more about the destruction of their civilization than sitting idly by, Della brings us a perspective we are unlikely to get anywhere else.

"I wasn't paying that much attention to the conversation. It was the kind of talk you could get anywhere over spelt cookies and a microbrew."

Despite the surreal nature of this book, the radical left the author skewers could not be more spot on in its depiction. Across the pages, Veselka raises useful questions about activism, surrender and other ways of coping when the reality around you is screaming out of control. At the same time, she paints a startling portrait of a world none of us hope we will actually live in, but know uncomfortably is not that far from where we are now.
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