Winner of PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize upon its first publication in 2011, Veselka's debut novel charts the evolving social consciousness and questionable activism of a young woman named Della, who is struggling for a foothold in a near-future America on the brink of war, in this re-release for our newly volatile political moment.
... a powerful, political, sometimes humorous, often frightening portrait of a parallel world that lurks in the near future in all of its dystopian glory ... One of the reasons that this story resonates on the page is Veselka’s lyrical prose, her ability to ground the events in a place and time while also slipping into surreal moments (without explanation), events and scenes unfolding into emotional, dimensional tapestries ... But this novel is not without humor. Even if Della is laughing on the outside while crying on the inside, she and her friends find a way to joke about serious matters ... Vanessa Veselka has written an engaging, touching book in Zazen, one that leaves the reader saddened by the unnecessary loss and destruction. But there is still a grain of hope buried in the ash ... a unique and lasting work of art.
Zazen’s readers will want to return to it in years to come, if only to hear Della’s voice ... Veselka is at her best when she’s expressing Della’s extreme bitterness about the world, and the desire to get rid of it ... If...act three of this novel gets muddled, the reader can trust that this lines up with the significant question posed by Veselka and other authors who have taken on the dystopian look of America: how does one find beauty in so much destruction? What separates this novel is the way Veselka honors the complexity of a young, intelligent generation at once confused and overwhelmed, but willing to enact change.
Vanessa Veselka’s gritty frenetic writing serves up an exciting new flavor among today’s literary menu of MFA influenced prose; not a conventional, well-crafted tale but a streaking flash of barbed satire and 21st century malaise ... Zazen is a powerful novel because it points out the sheer amount of uncertainty and distraction surrounding any person in the modern world ... The burning question in Zazen is whether revolution could be the answer. Echoing Paul Bowles’ anguish and Tom Robbins’ comedic flair, Ms. Veselka’s answer is unconvincing, but the irony is unmistakable: How did the country that was founded on revolution end up watching 999 cable channels and shopping at WalMart?