- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (6 February 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0544944607
- ISBN-13: 978-0544944602
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.6 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #4,88,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Call Me Zebra Hardcover – Import, 6 Feb 2018
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Praise for Call Me Zebra
Named a Most Anticipated Title of 2018 by Nylon
Named a Most Anticipated Title of 2018 by Book Riot
Named a Most Anticipated Fiction Title of 2018 by Bustle
Named a Most Anticipated Literary Fiction Title of Spring 2018 by Publishers Weekly
"Not many authors are compared to Borges, Cervantes, and Kathy Acker all in one breath, but that is exactly what we're dealing with here: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is a twisted, twisty genius, whose latest novel is a wild, trippy ride across countries...[Zebra] is in possession of an inimitable...voice, but it's all the better to help her--and us--navigate the chaos of this collapsing world."--Nylon
"A darkly, funny novel...[and] bombastic homage to the metacriticism of Borges, the Romantic absurdity of Cervantes, and the punk-rock autofictions of Kathy Acker...[Call Me Zebra] is a brilliant, demented, and bizarro book that demands and rewards all the attention a reader might dare to give it."--Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Oloomi's rich and delightful novel... crackles throughout with wit and absurdity... [Call Me Zebra] is a sharp and genuinely fun picaresque, employing humor and poignancy side-by-side to tell an original and memorable story."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"This fierce meditation, a heady review of literature and philosophy as well as a love story, is a tour de force from the author of Fra Keeler that many will read and reread."--Library Journal
"An arresting exploration of grief alongside a powder keg of a romance."--Booklist
"Zebra is exile as education, history as passion, life as literature, and literature as death."
--Tom McCarthy, author of the Man Booker Prize-finalist Satin Island and Remainder
"A penniless orphaned refugee, Zebra knows she can count on two things: literature and death. She builds a fortress out of both, surviving on fury, on memories and manifestos, until life begins to break through. Can Zebra handle life? Can literature handle Zebra? Reader, go find out! Call Me Zebra is like nothing else I've read, geo-political and bookish and sexy, quite refreshingly nuts and yet a ripping good read. Also, there's a stolen bird! I'd say I couldn't put it down, but Zebra would never approve a cliche, so I'll pay it a compliment she might actually accept: this book metabolized me."
--Danielle Dutton, author of Margaret the First
"There's something really radical about this epic and ecstatic quest. It's in the tradition of Cervantes' ingenious nobleman, but also deeply in conversation with Borges's Pierre Menard and Kathy Acker's own Don Quixote. The young female narrator of Call Me Zebra luxuriates in the tradition of Enrique Vila-Matas's literary sickness, or Kafka writing that he is made entirely of literature. A hilarious picaresque, perverse and voracious."
--Kate Zambreno, author of Heroines and Green Girl
"Call Me Zebra is a book about everything--exile, love, loss, literary theory, the insouciance of time, the history of Iran, funerary rites, and the idiosyncrasies and intricacies of the mind. In the main character, Zebra, we receive 'a scribe of the future, ' one who can synthesize great swathes of literature, history, and politics to produce insights that transcend categorization, insights that illuminate existence, its ascending flights and horrors. Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, the author of Call Me Zebra, has written a marvelous book that is at once contemporary, in conversation with fiction writers such as Valeria Luiselli and Rachel Kushner, and simultaneously reaches back to the eccentric talkers and characters in the work of Vladimir Nabokov and Italo Svevo. Call Me Zebra risks the grand, the large, the sublime as a means of answering the questions we speak only to ourselves when we think no one is listening."
--Roger Reeves, author of King Me
"This novel is not about a zebra but about a whole sharp, amazing, malicious and wicked zoo. Please enjoy responsibly."
--Quim Monzo, author of A Thousand Morons and supporting character in the novel Call Me Zebra
Praise for Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi and Fra Keeler
Winner of the Whiting Award, 2015
National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Honoree, 2015
A Slate Overlooked Book of 2013
"[An] exciting debut...It's a stunning psychological thriller, a total identification with madness that creates drama without either belittling or romanticizing the insane...Told in tight, unencumbered prose...The canny narrator's thoughts, which reel and falter as incidents accumulate, sustain a note of drama--and blessedly, humor--that provide the novel with the manic energy and tensile strength to pull it along toward its mystifying, violent end." --Los Angeles Times
"Oloomi enters so fully and sympathetically into the mad logic of her narrator that scenic detail, chronology, cause and effect, and even such mundane props as cactus, mailman, and ringing phone are bent, doubled, or subsumed by the paranoid geometries of meaning he draws...Subtly menacing, but not without humor, the novel derives momentum and tension from the space between its clear, intelligent language and the absolute unreliability of its narrator." --Slate
"Surreal...The lines that separate the living and the dead are blurred, revealing that perhaps the past is more present than it seems." --Mashable
"Van de Vliet Oloomi's spare, clear language sets this novel apart...Fra Keeler reminded me of Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances, Roberto Bolano's The Third Reich, and Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Reticence, not to mention big classics like Crime and Punishment and Lolita." --The Millions
"Mysterious, experimental, and surreal; [Van der Vliet Oloomi] crafts sentences so beautifully and unexpectedly that it's no wonder she's catching people's attention...She might just be on the verge of developing a whole new literature movement." --Bustle
"The book is a pleasure to read...Just as the word- and thought-play is both delightful and menacing, the narrator's logic chains are both convincing and impossible, like the patterns we all make out of everyday life." --Bookslut
"A rare gem of a book that begs to be read again." --Publishers Weekly
About the Author
AZAREEN VAN DER VLIET OLOOMI is the author of the novels Fra Keeler and Call Me Zebra, and an Assistant Professor in the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Notre Dame. She is the winner of a 2015 Whiting Writers' Award, a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree, and the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, as well as residency fellowships from MacDowell and Ledig House. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Guernica, Granta, BOMB, and elsewhere. She has lived in New York, Los Angeles, Tehran, Dubai, Valencia, Barcelona, and currently splits her time between South Bend, Indiana and Florence, Italy.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
And I was wrong and the experts were right. This is a remarkable book. The prose is witty and the scenes and characters are developed to balanced perfection. More than anything else, however, it’s hilarious.
When our protagonist, Zebra, is picked up at the Barcelona airport by a friend of a friend she hasn’t met, he is holding a sign that says: “Here to reclaim Jose Emilio Morale’s friend.” Instead of offering a friendly ‘hi, how are you, thanks for picking me up,’ our obsessed and behaviorally neurotic Zebra immediately demands to know if he had ever possessed her before, as the precise wording of the sign literally implies. He is Ludo Bembo, the self-exiled Italian philologist, who ultimately relents to her insistent demand by noting, “It is only a sign.” The explanation, not surprisingly, fell on deaf ears because nothing is only anything to Zebra at that time.
It admittedly reminded me of a retired English teacher I knew that was moved off her foundation whenever anyone used the phrase “very unique.” If humor is the release of discomfort, this kind of obsessive policing of language is the literary equivalent of slipping on a banana peel.
I bring that up, in part, because this is a book that could easily intimidate the reader if you let it. I don’t think, however, you need to let it, and I am convinced that the author would be greatly disappointed if you did. The author is obviously smart and capable, but the book shows no pretense of aspiration to be a literati. She wants to make you think, not back down.
The protagonist is an exile/immigrant/refugee, of course, and both the complexity of the book and the rich humor comes from her coming of age, intellectually and emotionally, in an unfamiliar and inhospitable world, having lost all of her family and personal identity to time and political tragedy.
True to her ancestral roots, she turns to literature, and the work of exiled poets and writers, in particular, as both a vehicle of escape and a source of pre-packaged judgment. And since much of her personal journey is navigated through the lens and the physical geography of literature and the geo-political history of civil war and exile in Europe and the Middle East, the narrative is filled with a bounty of references on both fronts.
Do not, however, be afraid of the literary references. You don’t need any expertise in Nietzsche or Dante to enjoy the narrative any more than you need an expertise in cars to enjoy a pleasant ride in the countryside.
The coming of age I refer to, which would be more appropriately called the coming of self, is a process of awareness followed by accumulation. At the peak of the process we are likely to be filled to overflowing with angst, disillusionment, and, perhaps, self-pity, if not self-loathing. Ultimately, however, we find a way to sort it all out and not to discharge our burden, but to clean things up enough to make room for the burdens of others.
That sorting, prioritizing, and contextualizing of her personal and ancestral burden is the heart of the storyline. It is a journey of self-discovery and the reconciliation of identity that we all must take. While told in the rich context of literature and art, it is, therefore, the most common story of all. It is, however, the rich and unique context that allows this story to stand out; to be both zany and personal at the same time.
The key, I think, is to let the story come to you and not to spend too much time trying to digest and consider each and every literary reference. I was reminded of those little rubber balls that seem to accelerate each time they bounce. They’re much easier to catch if you wait until the end of each bounce to reach for them.
Which is why, I suggest, if you are considering this book you just dive in and give it a go. If this book is not a national bestseller it will be because of intimidation, not the quality of the story or the prose. You won’t find much better.
The best news is that, in my own experience (I am now a sexagenarian), the first peak of self-awareness typically proves to be a foothill. Life is a range, not a mountain. So perhaps we shall have the benefit of scaling yet another peak of self-discovery with Zebra and her literary burden in the future. I truly look forward to it.