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Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Roomby Geoff Dyer
Synopses & Reviews
From a writer whose mastery encompasses fiction, criticism, and the fertile realm between the two, comes a new book that confirms his reputation for the unexpected.
In Zona, Geoff Dyer attempts to unlock the mysteries of a film that has haunted him ever since he first saw it thirty years ago: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. (“Every single frame,” declared Cate Blanchett, “is burned into my retina.”) As Dyer guides us into the zone of Tarkovsky’s imagination, we realize that the film is only the entry point for a radically original investigation of the enduring questions of life, faith, and how to live.
In a narrative that gives free rein to the brilliance of Dyer’s distinctive voice — acute observation, melancholy, comedy, lyricism, and occasional ill-temper — Zona takes us on a wonderfully unpredictable journey in which we try to fathom, and realize, our deepest wishes.
Zona is one of the most unusual books ever written about film, and about how art — whether a film by a Russian director or a book by one of our most gifted contemporary writers — can shape the way we see the world and how we make our way through it.
“Few books about film feel like watching a film, but this one does. We sit with Dyer as he writes about Stalker; he captures its mystery and burnish, he pries it open and gets its glum majesty. As a result of this book, I know the film better, and care about Tarkovsky even more.” Mark Cousins, author of The Story of Film
“There is no contemporary writer I admire more than Dyer, and in no book of his does he address his animating idea — The Only Way Not to Waste Time Is to Waste It — more overtly, urgently, empathetically and eloquently.” David Shields, author of Reality Hunger
“Testifying to the greatness of an underappreciated work of art is the core purpose of criticism, and Dyer has delivered a loving example that's executed with as much care and craft as he finds in his subject…he finds elements along the way that will keep even non-cinéastes onboard. While he dedicates ample energy to how the movie's deliberate pacing runs contrary to modern cinema, its troubled production and the nuts and bolts of its deceptively simple parts, Dyer's rich, restless mind draws the reader in with specific, personal details.” Los Angeles Times
“Dyer’s evocation of Stalker is vivid; his reading is acute and sometimes brilliant....Dyer is giving a performance, and it’s another Russian genius who presides over his book, namely Vladimir Nabokov....Zona is extremely clever.” New York Times Book Review
“Walter Benjamin once said that every great work dissolves a genre or founds a new one. But is it only masterpieces that have a monopoly on novelty? What if a writer had written several works that rose to Benjamin’s high definition, not all great, perhaps, but so different from one another, so peculiar to their author, and so inimitable that each founded its own, immediately self-dissolving genre? The English writer Geoff Dyer delights in producing books that are unique, like keys. There is nothing anywhere like Dyer’s semi-fictional rhapsody about jazz, But Beautiful, or his book about the First World War, The Missing of the Somme, or his autobiographical essay about D. H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage, or his essayistic travelogue, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do it. Dyer’s work is so restlessly various that it moves somewhere else before it can gather a family. He combines fiction, autobiography, travel writing, cultural criticism, literary theory, and a kind of comic English whining. The result ought to be a mutant mulch but is almost always a louche and canny delight.” James Wood, The New Yorker
“I’d never engaged quite so intensively with a book and a movie at the same time....Though it’s only 228 pages long, Zona manages to feel sprawling. Dyer is an enormously seductive writer. He has a wide-ranging intellect, an effortless facility with language, and a keen sense of humor…irresistible.” Slate
“A personal meditation on Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker — though, this being a Dyer book, it’s about plenty more besides....A digressive but impassioned mash note to a film that defies easy summary.” Kirkus
“The pleasures of reading Dyer are found in personal asides that connect his ostensible subject to a myriad of tangential subjects....Dyer's lightly carried erudition leads to an entertaining rumination on a cinematic masterpiece.” Shelf Awareness
“Dyer’s language is at its most efficient in this book, conversational and spare…Mr. Dyer is our Stalker. He guides us through the film, imbuing each shot with meaning or explaining why, in some instances, their nonmeaning is actually better than meaning....Cultural artifacts worthy of this degree of obsession are rare and it’s a pleasure to read Mr. Dyer’s wrestling with one.” New York Observer
“Dyer is at his digressive best when stopping to consider something that captures his fancy....The comedy and stoner’s straining for meaning is always present. And, when it is rewarded, as it so often is with rich associative memoir and creative criticism in Zona, we feel complicit, we celebrate the sensation at the end of all that straining, alongside with him....For a stalker, or an artist, it is essential to step out of the shadow of your mentor. As a writer, Dyer commits this artistic patricide regularly and more elegantly than most. He does it by writing all the way up to his heroes, documenting his approach to their material, wrestling with them, and leaving this totemic memento at their feet. The mentorship is concluded along with the book and he is free to go off in search of new Rooms, and new Stalkers to take him there.” Daily Beast
“Dyer’s Zona makes an impenetrable film accessible and relateable.” New York Magazine
“It's fascinating to see [Dyer] take on this master of stillness, timelessness and heavy self-regard. Consciousnesses collide, overlap, meld — and if nothing else, the book is a mesmerizing mashup of sensibilities…Dyer remains a uniquely relevant voice. In his genre-jumping refusal to be pinned down, he's an exemplar of our era. And invariably, he leaves you both satiated and hungry to know where he's going next.” NPR.org
“Geoff Dyer is at his discursive best in Zona.” Stephen Heyman, New York Times Magazine
The spellbinding new book from the acclaimed author of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is a wide-ranging investigation into the masterpiece of cinema that has haunted him since he first saw it thirty years ago.
The putative subject of Zona is the film Stalker, by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. As Dyer immerses us more and more deeply in the movie, it becomes apparent that Stalker, for all its power to obsess him, is only the point of departure for a wonderfully digressive exploration of cinema in general and European cinema in particular; of how we try to understand what we cherish; and of how we try to fathom — and realize — our deepest wishes. Magnificently unpredictable, frequently hilarious (and, surely, one of the most unusual books ever written about cinema), Zona is thoroughly enthralling and thought-provoking from first to last — even if you have not seen the film.
About the Author
Geoff Dyer is the author of four novels (most recently Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi); a critical study of John Berger; a collection of essays, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition; and five highly original nonfiction books, including But Beautiful, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and Out of Sheer Rage, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He lives in London.
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