BUZZ: An Unauthorized Autobiography

Rated 4.67/5 based on 7 reviews
Hello, my name is Buzz. Yes, it's my given name. I was born the day Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon. It was supposed to be auspicious. My Czech immigrant family had high hopes for me. That’s OK--they were a disappointment, too. Let me tell you how we were churned through the gears of history but managed to emerge with only a scratch or two. (Plus some deep wounds we were too polite to discuss.) More

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About Robert Zverina

Born in Liberty, NY in 1969, Robert Zvěřina is the only American-born child of Czech political refugees. He grew up on Long Island and graduated from a prestigious northeastern university with a BA in English. His first car was a classic GM V8 that he drove for years to jobs in a dishroom and mall bookstore, but he hopes the similarities to his protagonist Buzz Polštař end there. He received an MFA in Poetry at Brooklyn College under the mentorship of Allen Ginsberg, whose meticulously captioned photographs and lessons in empathy were an inspiration. Initially skeptical about computers and the internet, Robert launched Picture of the Day (www.zverina.com) in 1997, paving the way for future bloggers with his autobiographical mix of creative nonfiction, photography, and multimedia elements. After nearly 2,000 custom-designed web installments and eight feature-length volumes of pocket street videography (www.robZtv.com), Zvěřina remains skeptical about technology. But to sum up it's fair to say his entire life has been a struggle between indignation and acceptance, the yearning for a better world balanced by contentment in the present.

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Reviews

Review by: Mary C. Moore on Jan. 28, 2013 :
This book left me buzzed, in a good way. We are taken on a journey with the main character, Buzz (a darkly self-destructive, yet sensitive and humorous being), as he tells us about his family history, from his immigrant parents who fled to the U.S. to escape prosecution, to his shenanigans in rented tuxedos. The arc follows the existence of our main character with an intensity and dizzying spiral, which mixes in excerpts from the excitement of NASA exploration in the late sixties to reminisces about Czech political upheaval during Stalin's rise to power.

I was a huge fan of the author's writing. It well done, smooth and vivid. Zverina is deft at weaving multiple threads around the main story and blending it together. However, my complaints were enough to dash two stars off of the review: one for the length of some of the tangents as well as the vague muses and wanderings of the character, which in turn caused my attention to wander and leave the story. The second for the end, it was rushed, was not foreshadowed enough and thus felt unsatisfactory.

As this is, I think, Zverina's debut novel, my complaints mean little. I believe he is a gifted author and has a large amount of potential to make his mark on the literary landscape.
(reviewed the day of purchase)

Review by: Jeridel Banks on Nov. 22, 2012 :
Anyone who has read Buzz by Robert Zverina probably wonders the same thing.

“Houston, we have a problem. Why isn’t this book under a big publisher?”

Orbiting the moon landing of the U.S. Apollo 11 in 1969, Buzz tells the ordinary tale of Buzz Polstar, the son of Czech political refugees, and his time growing up in Long Island. Buzz showcases Polstar’s nostalgic childhood in the 1960’s, his mundane college career, and his apathetic adulthood.

What makes this book a brilliant read is the witty yet reflective narrative voice of Robert Zverina. Calm and collective with a trace of humor, Zverina delivers an easy, relative read for people looking for a break from the extraordinary. His stream of consciousness throughout the book pounces back and forth between the present and the past, giving few clues to the future. Though Zverina has a unique style, Buzz is imbued with John Fante’s somewhat-sober optimism and Charles Bukowski’s poetic play on words, minus the perversion.

Although Polstar is a great main character, his life’s story is common compared to his family’s history. Polstar’s stepfather, mother, and father escaped the Czech Republic under political pressure, landing in the U.S. as political refugees. Even Buzz’s birth during the moon landing was remarkably climatic over Buzz’s unexciting life. However dull Buzz’s life seems in the book, it’s easy for readers to see themselves in his life. If readers are looking for a less-whiny, contemporary version of Catcher in the Rye starring a regular person with a realistic perspective on a New Yorker’s life, Zverina’s Buzz is it.

In spite of being an indie author, Zverina is light-years away from the average indie author—and it probably comes from his well-rounded background. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University and a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry from Brooklyn College, CUNY. Even if anyone subtracted his educational background, Zverina has another trick up his space suit sleeve: he was mentored under the late Allen Ginsberg, one of the leading figures of the 1950’s Beat Generation. The anti-materialism, anti-conformism, and pro-drug theme—remnants of the post-World War II writers—shines through Buzz like a satellite in the middle of space.

Like its name, Buzz should be buzzed up by all readers needing a small step away from the mediocre in indie books.
(reviewed the day of purchase)

Review by: Andrew Singer on Oct. 16, 2012 : (no rating)
Buzz is a dark but brilliant story. It raises the question of whether you can be somewhere yet not be there at all—the moon, a neighborhood in New York City, a country or even a life. It shows us human experience through the distorted lenses of space suits, technology, totalitarianism, immigration, wealth, poverty and alcoholism. It also shows us brief moments when those distorted lenses are pulled away and we’re forced to glimpse reality in both beautiful and horrifying ways. Buzz could also be seen as a metaphor for America’s (and Humanity’s) two hundred year binge on technology, alcohol, drugs and wealth and what happens when that binge finally comes to an end. If you like Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka, Ralph Ellison, Sylvia Plath, Henry Miller or Flannery O’Connor, you’ll like this book. It is superbly written.
(reviewed the day of purchase)

Review by: Darrin Gunkel on Sep. 07, 2012 :
The moon’s surface is covered in regolith, a layer of powdery rock dust. This regolith was a source of consternation for Apollo landing mission planners. Since no one had yet been to the moon to take measurements, it was not known for sure how deep the regolith layer went. It was possible that once the Eagle landing module touched down, it could have just kept on going, sinking beneath layer of rock rubble churned up by 4 billion years’ worth of meteors pounding the moon. Fortunately for the Apollo mission in general, and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in particular, the regolith at the landing site proved only a few centimeters deep.

Buzz Polstar, narrator of Rob Zverina’s novella Buzz, An Unauthorized Biography, may not be so lucky. Buzz the narrator is named for Buzz the spaceman – the former being born the day the latter became the second man on the moon. The story turns on whether our Buzz will sink beneath the regolith of his life – a blanket of ground up booze bottles, the bones of his family closet full of skeletons, and the general accumulated detritus of life in an ever more tech-dominated society – or find firm footing on this New World. Fortunately for us, Zverina’s prose is light enough, his sense of humor and compassion sharp enough, that the novella doesn’t sink beneath its own surface of alienation.

One of the great things about Buzz is that it restores my faith in self-published fiction. In a literary space heaped with over-written hubris and poor-to-non-existent editing, Zverina carves a clear path. There’s a photographic feel to some of the vignettes. And sure enough, one key passage describes the only photograph Buzz has of his mother and step father, taken the day of the first lunar landing:
"They are in extreme profile pretending to look fondly into each others’ eyes, but Jerry is casting a sidelong glance, either wondering why the shutter hasn’t clicked or anxious not to miss when Armstrong would emerge from the lunar module Eagle."
Zverina knows how to zero in on details that make you feel like you’re holding that photo in your hand. It’s a deftly turned sentence in a novella full of them.

The job of great writing is to make sure words don’t get in the way of meaning. This can be a challenge, especially when creating flights of fancy the likes of which elevate Buzz. One night, the moon shines so brightly it causes the photosensitive street lights on Buzz’s block to shut off. It’s a moment when technology that can get in the way of feeling disappears. Under this unhampered moon, Buzz’s family and neighbors experience something magical, far more attainable, but feeling nearly as rare as actually walking on the moon.

Buzz, An Unauthorized Biography is full of moments like this, sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing, always rendered with a feeling eye for detail and a clean pen. About halfway through, I found myself wishing the story were longer. (Tell me more about Prague behind the iron curtain!) But Zverina knows what he’s doing, and in the end, Buzz is exactly the right length. It’s as much as we need, which is more than enough if we just look at it in the right light.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Jason Bogardus on Aug. 27, 2012 :
I'm reading 'Buzz' for the second time this summer. The first time I read it in a single day. Here Zverina offers us an imaginative coming of age story about a young man struggling with his more cynical nature. It is set against the backdrop of the Apollo 11 lunar landing and the dreamy yet desolate imagery Zverina invokes is masterful. The characters are surprisingly accessible. Due to Zverina's remarkably witty and intelligent style you will appreciate and connect with their emotional complexities without feeling burdened. I love this book and you will too. For a great read from a new and emerging author look no further. Check out what this 'Buzz' is all about!
(reviewed within a week of purchase)

Review by: Igor Peev on Aug. 22, 2012 :
This is definitely the best book I have read this year. I laughed out loud and wept in public when I read it, which I can not say I have done many times before. It is a real page turner, I read it in one sitting, and I can not say I have done that many times either. It is as close to Vonnegut as I have imagine it can be. It has great and interesting trivia about landing on the moon. Great characters. Great beat and reads more like poetry, rather than drilling long passages of prose. Do check it out!
(reviewed the day of purchase)

Review by: kavasar on Aug. 22, 2012 :
This memorable novella is my favorite book of 2012 so far. I picked it up and was not able to put it down. It's a novella and only takes a few hours to read, so just set aside an evening for it and settle in. I'd describe it as tragicomedy, by turns dark and touching, the characters well-developed and sympathetic. Zverina uses words precisely and with restraint, choosing to capture the nuance and richness of a scene or a character sparingly and poetically (saving us all pages of tedious description!), a la Raymond Chandler. This is a serious book, but Zverina's sense of comedy keeps it from being just a bummer and creates what I consider true art, not just entertainment. Beautiful!
(reviewed the day of purchase)

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