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Vanessa Veselka's "Zazen"

OPB | June 23, 2011 9:25 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10:15 p.m.

Portland author Vanessa Veselka‘s debut novel Zazen takes place in an alternate present, and in an unnamed city. It’s not Portland, or Brooklyn, or Seattle or Los Angeles. But readers from any of those cities — and from many others — might see themselves and their lives as if through a fun-house mirror. Here is the narrator’s take on war:

War A is going well and no longer a threat, small and mature. Like a Bonsai. War B is in full flower. Its thin green shoots reaching across the ocean floor like fiber optic cables. The TVs are on all the time now. The lights dim and everyone moves in amber. They flicker like votives. That’s what we will all be one day, insects in sap, strange jewels.

Della, the narrator, has come to distrust not just big box stores and academia but her yoga studio and the collectively run vegetarian cafe. She’s searching desperately for something to believe in, and she’s not finding it in consumer culture or in various iterations of counter-culture.

If Veselka has crafted a disturbing, funny, prose-poem of a novel, her bio reads like a short story all on its own:

Vanessa Veselka 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.

We’ll talk about some of those past lives, and about the nearly-but-not-quite-ours world of Zazen.

What questions do you have for Vanessa Veselka?


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