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3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,255 ratings  ·  239 reviews
Somewhere in Della’s consumptive, industrial wasteland of a city, a bomb goes off. It is not the first, and will not be the last.

Reactions to the attacks are polarized. Police activity intensifies. Della’s revolutionary parents welcome the upheaval but are trapped within their own insular beliefs. Her activist restaurant co-workers, who would rather change their identities
Paperback, 264 pages
Published May 22nd 2011 by Red Lemonade
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Average rating 3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,255 ratings  ·  239 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: post-apocalyptic
”It’s about how much fear you hide in your cells: blue cells, red cells, sickle cells, sleeper cells, jail cells--people are shot through with it. But I don’t hold my fear there. Everybody needs a place where they’re fearless or they’d never survive, at least I wouldn’t. Sometimes I hate this world. Especially when it’s more beautiful than I can imagine.”

Della Mylinek is slinging tofu scrambles and other vegan concoctions at a local diner. The world is destabilizing with a series of wars against
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kris by: Proustitute
I went to work and a guy I wait on said he was leaving. He said everyone he knew was pulling out.
“Canada is just not far enough. Mostly Mexico. A bunch to Thailand. Some to Bali.”
He always orders a Tofu Scramble and makes me write a fucking essay to the cook. No soy sauce in the oil mix, no garlic, extra tomato, no green pepper. Add feta. Potatoes crispy and when are we going to get spelt. He holds me personally responsible for his continued patronage. I hope he dies. I’d like to read about it.

Nov 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nataliya by: Kris
Shelves: 2013-reads
"Sometimes you just need to be someone else, someone who doesn’t care about anything at all. I know I do. I want emptiness but I can’t have it."

I read this book because of the amazing review Kris wrote, and she truly has an impeccable taste in books. The memory of her praise of this slim volume was what kept me from giving up through the first third of the story, until finally the book gripped my heart and insisted that I continue with it, until I finally was powerless to put it down
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, fiction
The world is a violent child none of us will get to see grow up.

The writing in this book is unlike anything else I can think of. Veselka has her own style, her own voice. And it’s awesome.

This book is like a constant panic attack. The tension chokes you.

Della, our protagonist, is sharply observant and enjoyably critical of all these things in the world today. You know, tofu and de-caf and soy and vegan and


The woman behind the counter was wearing a tank top that had “Namaste!” written acro
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Nearly every review of this that I skimmed through is glowing, but I didn't think it was that great. For one thing, it's populated almost solely by hippies and wannabe eco-terrorists, and Veselka crams it with so many hippie buzzwords that it makes one gag. Yoga, yerba mate, "namaste," rallies, leaflets, community organizing, veganism, artisan craft movements, indigenous medicine, co-ops, biodynamic farming, and other hippie affectations pervade throughout. This is clearly no accident but it gra ...more
Jun 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-good-shit
i'm going to do something i never thought i'd have cause to do.


i'm going to publicly declare unadulterated book love. if i could marry this book, i would, but human-biblio marriages are not yet on the public radar. if i could have this book's baby, i would. if it were my life or this book's life, i would throw mine down gladly. five stars is not enough; if i could adorn this book with the night sky, i'd do it.

it's Zazen. it's probably not in your library, but if you live in one of those fo
Stephen P
May 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Stephen by: P, and Kris's Review
Brilliant writing flaring into bursts of flame and explosion of wildfire. This is a first novel, eye opening, jaw dropping for the apparent talent and promise. When she is soon able to corral the kindling of associations leading to other brilliant associations, not to limit, but to organize the lightning into a clearer sense of what she wants to say, she will be at the top of current literary writers.
Nate D
Jan 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: post-activist doldrums
Recommended to Nate D by: dystopian present
Shelves: read-in-2017
How timely: a consideration of the options and failures of the radical left in a dystopian political present. But Zazen was written five years ago, and given the actual dystopian present facing 2017, unstoppable capitalism, Wallmart, and ongoing overseas wars seem like a much more manageable menu of frustrations. And what to make of the actual progression? The novel opens with and is awash in the details of ineffective personal rebellions of young progressives: spelt, veganism, piercings, sex pa ...more
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Portlandia meets Children of Men for a third wave feminist Fight Club. Veselka excels at satirizing the escapist antics of organic radicals in an age of perceived U.S. decline. But in doing so, does she paint herself into a corner? The resolution - to make peace with our absurd and symptomatic reactions, to perhaps even love them - hazards a rescue of the titular stance from irony to the best mode of response.

It is still easy to fall for Veselka's prose. The final lines stunned me. But I am amb
Richard  Thomas
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
[This review was originally published at The Nervous Breakdown.]

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
—Karl Marx

One of the first books released by Red Lemonade, the visionary new press brought to life by ex-Soft Skull patriarch Richard Nash, Zazen by Vanessa Veselka is a powerful, political, sometimes humorous, often frightening portrait of a parallel world that lurks in the near future in all of its dystopian glory. Della is caught in an emotional battle, deciding
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Good Friends
Recommended to Mosca by: Siiri

Almost anything I say will insufficiently describe this book. But I will say a few things that will, hopefully, do this book some justice.

Vanessa Veselka is one of those priceless writers who speak their own language with skill, wit, compassion, and vision. I have read no other writers who write like she does. As far as I can tell, she imitates no one. But she may, indeed, inspire imitators.

Vaselka's prose is a treat. She repeatedly teases us with humor,
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
this is like a queer feminist fight club, a million times more complicated and interesting. i have not seen contemporary radical/anarchist politics handled so effectively in fiction, except in scifi, and i guess there's a touch of that here. this future is near, though. it's like, tomorrow. i am particularly impressed by how veselka sets up different ideological systems via character, with some systems/characters rendered unstable by della's limited knowledge and changing allegiances. people app ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
I'll keep it as short as possible [should be shorter]. Because I don't like this kind of Review. I'm not here to tell you what books to avoid ; you're good enough about that without me. I'm here to tell you what books you should read or could read but that you've never heard of them.

This one is like not much more than Portlandia. See? I can insult a book too.

Which is disappointing because it came so highly rec'd several years back while making the gr rounds and I was interested in getting a copy
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
dystopian new/now future novel of usa after haliburton does truly take over. or was it wal mart? Main character Della has gotten her phd in geology (i think she got it) but is traumatized by a school bombing, so is chilling in the city working at a cafe. when bombs and threats of bombs start going off in the city, Della starts freaking out a bit, but meets some off-the-griders and so moves out to the country to chill. But then THEY turn out to be bombers too. etc etc
why 5 stars? author's turn o
Capsule review from first read, 25 Jan 2012, edited to add link to Kris's review:

A fantastic debut that makes me less worried about the future of fiction. This is a book like no other, and Veselka's prose is raw, poetic, gritty, and tapped in to social anxieties and political unrest in almost prophetic ways.

Kris's review is well worth reading, so I will direct you there.
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What a stunning debut novel. I hope to give a full review soon - the last 30 pages are amazing, the final 100 words are some of the best to finish a novel I've read in a long time.
Mar 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, american-lit
This obscure American novel has been on my to-read list for at least six years and damned if I can remember how it got there. I finally bought an ex-library copy off eBay out of curiosity. Published in 2011, it depicts a nameless post-industrial urban America plagued by acts of domestic terrorism. Oddly to the 2018 reader, these acts involve neither white supremacists nor firearms, but consist of bomb threats and actual bombings. The narrator is a recovering PhD student, not entirely mentally st ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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 c
Read 7/21/11 - 7/29/11
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Pgs: 257
Publisher: Red Lemonade

The first title published under Richard Nash's newest publishing platform is a poetic, obsessive, unsettling novel that details the chaotic small town life of Della, a twenty seven year old waitress dealing with the fear and anxiety of a country on the edge of war.

Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka, is a powerful look at what society could do to itself in uncertain times. In dystopian America, where it's
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
On a very rare occasion do you open a book and know after the first few lines that you’ve stumbled on a new species, something fresh and unapologetic and completely wild. Such is Vanessa Veselka’s iconoclastic debut novel Zazen. It is a work that not only challenges world views, but one that pushes you through to the other side—through the prison bars of Old Honduras—where everyday injustices, as seen on a shopping trip to Walmart, take on a stark new dimension.

Keep reading at nthWORD Shorts
I think this is the type of book that people will either love or hate. It has the distinction of being the only book I can think of that involves twenty-something angst, domestic terrorism, hipper-than-thou vegans with names like Mirror and Devadatta, BDSM sex parties, paleontology, and a papier-mâché bust of John the Baptist constructed out of junk mail. It's also full of ridiculous conversations like this:

'It's supposed to be sexy," she screamed, "not some hippy soft porn garden scene. Nobody
Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
It took me a while to get involved in Zazen, and there was a pronounced difference between my investment in the first half of the novel and the second. The second half was so strong, though, that I ended up really liking it, and being challenged in the ways I like fiction to challenge me: it made me think, and not just abstractly. I was reminded quite a bit of both Joy Williams and and Helen Garner, especially Garner's Monkey Grip which is also set deeply within a particular countercultural mili ...more
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: notable
This book smells so good. Like Wegmans and cologne. Too bad the copy I read is from the library.

Going into this book, I didn't know exactly how weird it was going to be. It is very very weird.

The world of Zazen is like ours but different. You could call it a parallel Earth, or a scary possible future earth. The main character, Della, lives in a world in which governments try to hide wars from the general public and bombs are constantly going off in the city. It is sort of a dystopian world, with
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I finished Zazen two days ago (devoured it in two days) and I can't stop thinking about it. I won't call it perfect, because what's a perfect novel and really who would want to read such a thing. What it is is that rare work of art that is completely, precisely itself.

This is where I reveal myself as a lousy book reviewer because I can't explain it better than that. What is it, exactly, that makes Zazen such a remarkable book for me? I mean, yeah it's super smart and the prose is gorgeous and t
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
I loved this book and all of its creativity, but typos got in my way. I'm surprised to have found as many as I did, given the public curation aspect of Red Lemonade. The plural of bus is buses, not busses (that's the plural of buss), cars have brakes and not breaks, and the activist was named Valerie Solanas, not Valerie Solanis. Maybe this sounds nitpicky, but these errors--albeit small ones--seemed so out of place in a book such as this.

The story and characters are fantastic and Veselka's wri
Mar 15, 2013 marked it as unfinished
Another one I'm giving up on, knowing the fault is mine. This seems like a great book, but it's just not doing it for me right now. I seem to be in a weird space, having a hard time reading, and choosing books to read.
Kara Babcock
Very mixed feelings about this one. Zazen is the kind of nihilistic, meditative tract that a lot of people rave about. Vanessa Veselka definitely examines a lot of the paradoxes inherent in the way some adults conduct themselves during those often aimless days after school and before middle age. At the same time, I did not have a good time reading this, and I never really enjoyed any of the characters. But I do wonder how much of that is the book and how much might be my own internalized literar ...more
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
There's some good writing in this, but it's painfully too long. Pretty much every character is repellent, and while it's clear that Veselka hasn't crafted them that way without purpose, it is very difficult to spend over 250 pages with them. The satire of crunchy granola activism gets strained and tired after about fifty pages too. I feel like this might have been a more effective short story.
Marc Kozak
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Marc by: The Millions
"Zazen" is a central part of the Zen Buddhist practice, and refers to the act of literally just sitting still. You're supposed to suspend "all judgmental thinking and let words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them." (thanks Wikipedia!)

I'm gathering that this (and the book itself) is a shot at what the author perceives to be the total ineffectualness of modern youth culture's activism. There are so many "buzzwords" used: vegan, organic, gluten-free, yoga, co-ops,
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, fiction, ladyish
this was my first book of 2012. i decided to re-read it as one of my last books of 2012, so i'll be revisiting it soon. i don't think i've ever read a book twice in one year in my entire adult life, so that's big.

I have actually spent the past eleven months trying to figure out what to write about this book. I wanted to wordsmith the perfect things to make you understand it, to understand me. holding this book and reading it, i felt a way that i haven't felt since the first time i read geek lov
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Red Lemonade: Ask Vanessa 33 85 Mar 18, 2012 12:12AM  

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Vanessa Veselka is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. She has been, at various times, a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, an expatriate, an independent record label owner, a train-hopper, a waitress, and a mother. Her work has appeared in Bust, Bitch, Maxmum Rock ’n’ Roll, Yeti Magazine and Tin House. Zazen is her first novel.

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Articles featuring this book

Bomb threats and terrorist attacks are part of daily life in her scary and yet humorous dystopian novel, Zazen. Would you stay or would you go?
15 likes · 19 comments
“The world is a violent child none of us will get to see grow up.” 10 likes
“I looked at the woman crying over the doll and felt something else. I was sick of people acting against their own interests. Mooing about how to refinance the slaughterhouse. Putting skylights in the killing pen and pretending the bolt in the brain was a pathway to a better field. I paid my bill. Save your fucking pennies for a gun and a history book, I thought.” 8 likes
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