Letters to Zerky: A Father's Legacy to a Lost Son . . . and a Road Trip Around the World


Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award

IPPY Award Gold Medalist for Travel Essay

Next Generation Indie Book Award Winner for General Non-Fiction

Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist for Travel/Travel Guide


Both a memoir and a memorial, these collected letters and diary entries recount one family’s adventurous journey in 1967 attempting to drive around the ...

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Letters to Zerky: A Father's Legacy to a Lost Son . . . and a Road Trip Around the World

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Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award

IPPY Award Gold Medalist for Travel Essay

Next Generation Indie Book Award Winner for General Non-Fiction

Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist for Travel/Travel Guide


Both a memoir and a memorial, these collected letters and diary entries recount one family’s adventurous journey in 1967 attempting to drive around the world in a VW bus. Not intended as a book at the time of the writing, the intimate and poignant story details the family’s travels through Europe, the Middle East, and into Asia, challenging preconceptions about different cultures and illuminating how one-year-old Zerky had a magical effect on everyone they met along the way. The book features maps and pictures of the trek yet is more than just a travelogue; Zerky and his mother died shortly after the trip and this narrative serves as tribute to their lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this plodding memoir, Bill and Joanne Raney recount a cross-continent trip that began in 1967 with a flight from San Francisco to Munich and took the couple across Europe and Asia in a Volkswagen bus with infant son Xerxes (the titular Zerky) and headstrong dachshund Tarzan in tow. Written in two voices—Joanne's diary entries and Bill's letters to Xerxes—the Raneys record daily events and interactions, from the epic (visiting the Taj Majal, witnessing a Hindu funeral) to the mundane (exchanging money in Iran, border crossings, gastrointestinal illnesses) with equal zeal, often omitting important historical, geopolitical, and regional information. Not without its moments—some of them genuinely touching—the book remains an often banal account of an epic journey without the revelations or insight one would expect from two hippies in the tumultuous 1960s.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780982138410
  • Publisher: Nickelodeon Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Pages: 436
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Raney dropped out of college in 1959 to become a beatnik in San Francisco’s North Beach district. In the late 1960s, he founded the Nickelodeon Theatre, a local art theatre still alive and successful today. He lives in Santa Cruz, California. JoAnne Walker Raney moved to Paris in 1955 and from there went hitchhiking through Yugoslavia during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. She returned to San Francisco in the late 1950s to buy and remodel a small art theatre, The Movie. She died in 1969.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Extraordinary travel memoir

    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 - 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 ten-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. 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 this book 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.

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    Posted February 19, 2010

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    Posted December 7, 2011

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