Book 259: Zazen – Vanessa Veselka

Veselka, Vanessa - ZazenAfter seeing this on Heather’s blog Between the Covers (direct link to her review) and seeing her recommend it to many other people over the intervening years and knowing we have similar book tastes I knew I needed to read this novel.

This was a fascinating take on (post) identity politics in a (potentially) war-torn country. It was incredibly difficult to decide how much was seriousness, criticism, sarcasm or some other commentary. I had a brief conversation with Heather about the book because I was so confused as I started reading it that I thought it might be a translation. In the end I felt Veselka did a great job but I’m still not quite sure what form of commentary she was using. The combination of the identity politics versus the environmental (both natural and manmade) issues made for a really interesting read. Veselka’s writing and story telling reminded me of a less controlled and less refined Margaret Atwood, so of course I was going to enjoy it.

The reason I include “(post)” in front of identity politics is because this is set in the near future or alternative present and some of her descriptions are hilarious in their caustic wit such as

“Even Credence fell in love and got married although I think he secretly wants a medal for falling in love with a black woman. Our parents were so proud. Now, if I could only abandon my heterosexual tendencies as uninvestigated cultural preconditioning and move in with some sweet college-educated lipstick-dyke bike mechanic, they could all finally die happy.” (3)

“I decided that it’s only fair that with a personal savior you get a personal destroyer, niche terrorism being the obvious next step in identity politics. Narcissism meets the rest of the world.” (76)

However, at the same time it’s very difficult to take in the seriousness of what Veselka is writing when she’s choosing sarcasm (I think) to talk about things that are still very much in flux and debate, even if it does provide a much-needed reprieve from the seriousness of Della’s (the protagonist) condition. The only real problem I had with Dell as a character was the jerkiness in which she moved through the story. If Veselka had saved this story for a second novel I can only imagine how it would’ve been even better!

I did have a major problem with the editing of the book. I read a physical version from the library and maybe it’s been better proofed since the physical publication, but there were major typo and grammatical errors throughout the book. I wouldn’t say anything if it was only one or two, but at one point there were 3-4 on one page and I had to re-read the page to make sure it wasn’t my eyes skipping over things. I don’t read a lot of independent/self published books because of this and yet this is supposed to be a step above that.

And this is super disappointing because I loved the blurb on the back by the publisher, Red Lemonade (don’t visit the website it’s horrible):

Red Lemonade works to be a carbon neutral book publishing community. This indie paperback edition is printed on acid-free 100% post-consumer recycled paper reducing our environmental footprint and contributing to the longevity of this book as an object. Furthermore, for each trade paperback purchased from our website, we will plant a tree in a forest expressly designed for the readers and writers of the Red Lemonade publishing community.

Recommendation: I could see people really enjoying this, but I’m not sure who I would recommend it to. IF you want to read something different and well written (if not well-edited) definitely check it out.

Opening Line: “I went to work and a guy I wait on said he was leaving.”

Closing Line: “I decided to love it anyway.” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from Zazen
“Only a thin film separates God and commerce or environmentalism and colonialism, a film as thin as a cell wall, but that separation is everything and I could fee it dissolving.” (83)

“Grace rose from the table like a tsunami. With her breath she washed away the debris of the past until we were all floating in her massive sorrow and buoyed by her absolute conviction in life, vibrant and wild on the shores, she carried us forward and that’s how we landed, all of us on this strange beach.” (101)

“That’s the problem with symbolic gestures. People never take them far enough. They don’t see them as a system. They blow up something right in front of them, like the bathroom in the New Land Trust building, and then caper around like monkeys. They might as well throw bananas at it.” (111-112)

“…symbols matter more than anything because it’s the only real language we have left.” (223)


10 thoughts on “Book 259: Zazen – Vanessa Veselka”

  1. Interesting. Not sure I would mesh well with a story I couldn’t put my finger on: sarcasm, serious, a blend. too bad about the typos. I know they are hard to avoid completely, but 3-4 on a page is a bit much.


    1. Yeah I’m usually not too much of a stickler for them but when there are so many it gets distracting it’s a problem.

      I think my biggest issue was the slow reveal it just didn’t work all that great for me


  2. I don’t remember there being many typos in my Kindle version. Hmmm…I would have to guess there weren’t many (or any at all), because that stuff usually annoys the heck out of me, and I wasn’t annoyed by this book at all.

    I love, love, love the quote in which Grace is compared to a tsunami. Did you notice how much water-related prose there was in the book? I’m still thinking about that and what it might mean.


    1. I wondered I they cleaned it up for the kindle version, so they must have. And there were sooo much water. It made me wonder how much if Atwood’s she read, The Year of the Flood but with much less subtlety. Not that Atwood was the first to do it.


  3. I read this book because of Heather’s review, too! I was impressed by the writing, and I thought Veselka had a lot to say, but I didn’t quite “get” this book. (My copy had a lot of typos, too .) Great post; I think you conveyed a lot about this novel that I couldn’t put my finger on when I read it.


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