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Book Review: Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son… by Bill Raney (with JoAnne Walker Raney)

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Whether it’s because their favorite characters are heading out on another adventure, or their favorite writer has come up with a new story to tell, there are books that readers simply cannot wait to receive. But very rarely does a novel come along that book lovers are honored to read. Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son… and a Road Trip Around the World is that book.

Bill Raney is a man who hit the open road with his loving wife, JoAnne, a fantastic son named Zerky, and an adorable dachshund named Tarzan. Back in 1967 this fascinating quartet took off in a VW bus to see what all the world’s countries had to offer, and during that long journey Bill wrote letters to his son. Being that the boy was only a ‘babe among men’ when he was a part of this journey, Dad wanted to make sure to record all the sights, sounds, experiences and people they met along the way so that Zerky could have a record of all he saw once upon a time. Those letters sat in a file for thirty-six years and just recently Mr. Raney put them into book form to allow readers into his son’s life. The stories, the pictures — virtually everything — honors a young man who was taken far before his time.

Bill was from North Dakota and wanted nothing more than to be a flamenco guitarist. Ending up in San Francisco at the infamous ‘Monkey Block’ building, he found himself among the ‘beatniks’ and smack dab in the political and social upheaval that the Vietnam war was providing America. He was lucky enough to meet his bride, JoAnne, at a bar one night called “The Place.” Joanne owned the small movie theatre down the road, and soon this couple got together and adopted a beautiful blond-haired boy they named Zerky. He was only 10-months-old when the family sold the theatre and got on a plane that took them to Germany — a plane trip that is seriously hysterical because the Germans treated little Tarzan like he was a terrorist ready to strike.

From here on out the readers are brought on this fantastic journey that goes from the coldest of places (where the family had to buy a heater for the VW bus in order to remain alive), to places as rich and vibrant as the French Riviera. A beautiful letter came from the tiny village of Andorra, a place the family went to that once existed in peaceful serenity, far away from the rest of the overbearingly greedy world. Unfortunately, as with all things, the modern world found that mystical little place and brought it into the 21st century.

Spain and the flamenco craze is offered, as well as time in Portugal to meet up with friends and see the beautiful sites that included a mini-cathedral dating back to the sixth century. Prague in 1967 was one of the most intriguing places, as the family went from “a Technicolor to gray world.” Prague was beautiful with its medieval sites; a city covered in soot that was headed into yet another frightful time. The lessons in history were a great deal of fun as the author mentioned the vibrant pasts of places like Olympia and Persepolis. Tarzan and Zerky played in everything from the Matterhorn snow to the rocks in the Italian Alps, and even entered into the more dark and disturbing places such as the concentration camp at Dachau and the Spielberg Castle in Brno.

The journey involved everything from a ‘run-in’ with border guards to a ‘tense’ event with a would-be kidnapper on an Arabian horse, and the stories and pictures the author provided are more than memorable. There are tales of humor, wit, and charm leading to an ending that will leave readers breathless. Not only is Letters to Zerky a huge treat, but when readers realize that it’s a tribute and not a scrapbook, it’s certain to become the one book that will forever be kept on your bookshelf and in your heart.

Quill Says: There is no reviewer on this planet who is good enough to form the words this book deserves. Extraordinary is the closest I can come.

(Reviewed by Amy Lignor for Feathered Quill Book Reviews)

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  • Yesterday my book, “Letters to Zerky, a Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son and a Road Trip Around the World,” received another rave review, this one in the Seattle Post Inteligencer, although it originated with the Feathered Quill. Please let me know what you think of it.