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A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room

Geoff Dyer


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (11/13/2012)
Paperback (3/1/2013)
Hardcover (2/1/2012)


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.

Praise For Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room

“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

“The multifarious writer’s scene-by-scene dissection of cinematic meditation Stalker eveolves into a series of colorful digressions about the nature of time, youth, infatuation with great art, threesomes and one irreplaceable Freitag bag. Remarkably, this lucid trip is effective whether or not you’ve seen Tarkovsky.” –Time Out New York Best of 2012 

“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

“A national treasure.” –Zadie Smith  
“One of my favorite of all contemporary writers.” –Alain de Botton
“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 true original…[Dyer] never ceases to surprise, disturb and delight.” –William Boyd

“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 prises 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

“Dyer, blessed with limitless range and a ravishing ability to bend and blend genres, is coming out with a peculiar little book about a 30-year obsession…the result is an entertaining and enlightening joy.” –The Millions

“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    
“A pellucid scene-by-scene ramble through Tarkovsky’s sci-fi head trip, alive to the film’s textures as much as its ideas…so addictive. The pleasure of Zona lies in Dyer’s method, in its constant sense of discovery, as if he had just stumbled out of a screening and was sharing his thoughts with you after a beer or three…a marvel of tactility.” –
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.” –
“Geoff Dyer is at his discursive best in ZONA.” —Stephen Heyman, New York Times Magazine

“Rich with dramatic nuance but sparse on action, the film moves slowly, methodically, but Dyer breezily free associates and his diversions and frank admissions candied with self-deprecation tunnel into your own thoughts. In doing so, the book transcends being an examination of a film or an established author’s confessional, anecdotal indulgence…Again and again Dyer’s caroming thoughts trigger your own associative leaps that take you away from Dyer’s text. But it works. What is memorable about this particular reading experience is that even if you’ve never given a second thought to quicksand, tried LSD, or watched The Wizard of Oz (Dyer hasn’t), his read of Stalker permits you to square your life with a film that you may or may not know anything about.” –The
“If any film demands book-length explication from a writer of Geoff Dyer's caliber, it's surely Stalker…Dyer is, as the book amply demonstrates, the perfect counterpart to Tarkovsky. Where the film director is stubbornly slow and obscure, Dyer is a fleet and amusing raconteur with a knack for amusing digressions…budding Tarkovskyites might understandably wish they could buy a copy of Dyer's Zona bundled with an exquisitely restored version of Stalker.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Dyer has been just under the radar for many years now, but this UK author deserves the widest of audiences as he writes books that are funny, off-beat and hugely informative. This latest is ostensibly about the Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky, but it's really about life, love and death—with many jokes and painful-but-true bits along the way.” –Details Magazine
[Dyer] combines a rigorous scholarship and criticism with whimsical digressions, both fictional and autobiographical, to create the light but heady concoction that’s become his signature.” –Time Out NY
Zona is an unpretentious yet deeply involving discussion of why art can move us, and an examination of how our relationship to art changes throughout our lives. It's also funny, moving and unlike any other piece of writing about a movie.” –Huffington Post

“An unclassifiable little gem…very funny and very personal.” –San Francisco Chronicle  
“You can read this book in 162 minutes and come away refreshed, enlivened, infuriated, amused, thoughtful, and mystified. An invigorating mixture of responses, but this is a Geoff Dyer book…the most stimulating book on a film in years.” –New Republic

“It's hard to understand why a major publisher would release a book-length study of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, a film few have seen. But then you look at the dust jacket of Zona and realize it's written by Geoff Dyer…An engaging piece of writing that asks questions about the nature of art and provides a new way to write about film.” –The Atlantic online

“With Zona, Dyer not only illuminates his personal artistic experience through engaging with film, he may well have ushered in a new genre of nonfiction.” –Critical Mob

“Perhaps Dyer’s value lies in how, with rigor and play, he engages his obsessions…an Eros-driven reading adventure, courtesy of contemporary literature’s best muller.” –The Rumpus

“Dyer is one of those rare geniuses who writes well about everything…‘Would we regard this landscape of fields, abandoned cars, tilted telegraph poles and trees as beautiful without Tarkovsky?’ he asks. There’s a beauty, too, in the asking, and a satisfaction from seeing that beauty brought into existence by this particular asker…the best way to grasp the movie’s essential slowness is simply to luxuriate in Dyer’s insanely companionable zeal.” –New Haven Review 

 Zona doesn’t interpret Stalker as much as it transforms it into something wholly new …Fans of Dyer’s witty genre-bending will be hooked from the start.” –CultureMob 
“Geoff Dyer's book is ostensibly a commentary on the Russian movie Stalker, but is actually a sweeping meditation on culture, meaning and getting old. Philosophy for those who prefer to live it, rather than understand it.” –Huffington Post, “Best of 2012”
“If W.G. Sebald had locked himself in a movie theater and started drinking before breakfast, he might have written something like Zona: a critique of a cult film that’s also a meditation on time, love, art, threesomes, and messenger bags.” –New York Magazine, “Top 10 of 2012”

“Fascinating…Dyer's unpredictable and illuminating observations delighted and amused me all the way through.” –Minneapolis Star-Tribune   
“The definitive work of an author whose work refuses definition…wickedly funny…The mood of the film may not be one of divine comedy, but Dyer's rendering of it frequently is.” –Austin American-Statesman

“I didn’t expect a book as formally aware and graceful as Zona. A little study of a single film, it does so much: steadily expanding to serious heights without becoming ponderous, and constantly digressing without losing focus…a small book that contains multitudes…The unspooling of interests and impressions and realizations and jokes is an attempt to depict a response to art, the effect of which is art itself.” –Full Stop 
“Every scene’s been so smartly described that no matter how long it’s been since readers have seen the film, it comes back in vivid detail. The digressions mirror the pathway of the film’s trio: To approach the film, Dyer has to make his own circuitous path, connecting scenes with childhood memories or Chernobyl, as the case may be. Doing so lets him build to climactic musings on faith and desire as serious as the movie he’s exploring.” –AV Club 

“We’re in the realm of the sustained gaze where the same thing can be, if you look long and close enough, of interest many times… And that’s a nice way to think about it maybe, Stalker on the one hand, and Zona on the other, the two equivalent in their ramshackle way. Different scales perhaps but some common seed between them. The two linked as a seamless running text. There’s eye-contact with the camera and it’s a long gaze, both ways. The same thing. Interesting twice.” –Impose Magazine

“Dyer’s musings on everything from on-set disasters to his desire to join a threesome make for a rich and wacky sojourn.” –Mother Jones
Zona is an essential book about a remarkable film…it is an ideal companion piece and, like much of Dyer’s writing, worth reading again and again.” –
“[Dyer] still writes in the same charming, scholarly free-associative register, and his ability to synthesize arts criticism and memoir remains nonpareil…essential for anyone looking to discover the origins of his extraordinary voice and career.” –Quarterly Conversation

Zona is a wonderful companion piece to the film, a must-read for fans of Tarkovsky and the study of cinema itself.” –  

“Geoff Dyer has tricked up Tristram Shandy, cross-bred it with Lady Gaga, and come up with an insightful, audacious, deeply personal, often hilarious and entertaining approach to literature in a world which doesn’t much appreciate art or even the book itself. He is one of the most interesting writers at work today in English.” –Wichita Eagle
“Dyer is an impressive writer with a extensive, expansive body of work, but to my mind it’s important to note how warm and inviting his writing can be…for an incredibly engaging experiment in nonfiction, analysis, and art.” –Full Stop
“Deeply rewarding…quite remarkable…In reading Zona, I no longer felt the need for a screening: Dyer's excitement was able to shape my hazy memories of the film into something astonishingly real.” –

“Do we need an entire book to explain a movie to us? Frankly, when the movie in question is Tarkovsky’s Stalker that’s exactly what we need. Zona will have you, finally, nodding in time with the flow of the film and understanding the story in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise upon cold watching. Here’s what I suggest: If you’ve not seen “Stalker,” see it. Invest the two-plus hours (or more, if you nap intermittently). Then, read the book. After that? See the movie again. And like Dyer, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stop at second viewing.” –Word & Film  

Pantheon, 9780307377388, 240pp.

Publication Date: February 21, 2012

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.