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Book Cover of Zazen by Vanessa Veselka


Vanessa Veselka is something like a literary comet: bright-burning, far-reaching, rarely seen, and a little dangerous.

Tom Bissell

Winner of the 2012 PEN/ROBERT W. BINGHAM PRIZE for debut fiction

From the Judges’ Citation:

When practicing zazen, the disposition of our mind should be to see without being marred by what we see. This definition stands in stark contrast to the experience of reading Vanessa Veselka’s keen dystopian novel Zazen: we can’t help but be injured and destabilized. We can’t help but find the contents at once disturbing and funny, explosive and muted, encyclopedic, intimate, and painfully honest. On top of all this, Veselka has thrown herself into every single sentence of this lyrical, incisive, nervy book, turning even the most nightmarish scenes and satirical dialogue into effortless beauty. An ambitious encapsulation of our modern times, Zazen tackles counter-culture hipsters, geology, Buddhism, consumerism, terrorism, veganism, family drama, and, above all, love. In doing so, Zazen brings to the foreground the most fragile aspects of living the 21st century life, and how, in the end, we as a society can become the very thing we fear.

From the Backflap:

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 than the world around them, resume a shallow rebellion of hair-dye, sex parties, and self-absorption. As those bombs keep inching closer, thudding deep and real between the sounds of katydids fluttering in the still of the city night, and the destruction begins to excite her. What begins as terror threats called in to greasy bro-bars across the block boils over into a desperate plot, intoxicating and captivating Della and leaving her little chance for escape.

Zazen unfolds as a search for clarity soured by irresolution and catastrophe, yet made vital by the thin, wild veins of imagination run through each escalating moment, tensing and relaxing, unfurling and ensnaring. Vanessa Veselka renders Della and her world with beautiful, freighting, and phantasmagorically intelligent accuracy, crafting from their shattered constitutions a perversely perfect mirror for our own selves and state.

Additional Praise:

At turns hilarious, unsettling, and improbably sweet, Veselka’s debut is, above all, a highly engaging, and totally unique experience, which will have you re-reading passages and dog-earing pages. But best of all, in the end, Zazen is that rare novel which dares to be hopeful in the face of despair, and succeeds.

—Jonathan Evison

[A] taut…Veselka’s prose is chiseled and laced with arsenic observations…Veselka makes a case for hope and meaning amid sheer madness.

—Publishers Weekly

She’s penned a dystopic romp through a ravaged America. It’s the best kind of imagined world because it’s one ripe with recognizable humanness amidst unpredictable narrative bends … The writing in Zazen is absolutely beautiful.

—Joshua Mohr, The Rumpus

Vanessa Veselka’s gritty frenetic writing serves up an exciting new flavor among today’s literary menu of MFA influenced prose … a streaking flash of barbed satire and 21st century malaise.

—Judy Krueger, New York Journal of Books

Veselka uncovers something unironic and refreshingly free from cynicism. Simply: something new.

—Paul Constant, The Stranger

Rat Queen illustration by Stefan Jecusco

Buy Zazen from Powell’s or AbeBooks

Nonfiction – Longform

Atlantic – In the Wake of Protest (organizing at Amazon)

Atavist Magazine – The Fort of Young Saplings

The American Reader – Green Screen