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Call Me Zebra

2.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,077 ratings  ·  276 reviews
A feisty heroine’s quest to reclaim her past through the power of literature, even as she navigates the murkier mysteries of love.
Zebra is the last in a line of anarchists, atheists, and autodidacts. When war came, her family didn’t fight; they took refuge in books. Now alone and in exile, Zebra leaves New York for Barcelona, retracing the journey she and her father mad
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 2.84  · 
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 ·  1,077 ratings  ·  276 reviews

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Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bibliophile, exile
I hail from the land of not belonging, directly beyond the frontier of any nation.

To disappear into literature seems a vacation to many, but in Call Me Zebra, the second novel by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, this is a defense against the traumas of the world. Zebra is the story of a young woman with an immense passion for literature who is carrying the scars of a long history of violence and displacement and how she sets out on a literary ‘Grand Tour of Exile’ to better understand her lack of
Mar 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
It's been quite some time since I've visited One Star Island but, thanks to Van der Vliet Oloomi, I just received a visa.

"When I found the street, I pointed at it and simultaneously tapped my foot against the ground in order to indicate to the various intersecting surfaces of the city that I, Zebra, Dame of the Void, was as receptive as an antenna, ready to channel information; that my double mind, which contained multiple subminds, each motored by a different language, was a fertile ground for
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Pretentious writing style obscured what would otherwise have been a really touching story about a young woman coping with tragedy and growing up. Currently, I prefer to read authors who can communicate universal topics in simple, yet beautiful, ways. Van der Vilet Oloomi seemed more concerned with clogging up every sentence with literary references and a superiority complex rather than using language to convey the narrative. Regardless of whether that was the point of the book, I did not enjoy i ...more
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
I spent most of this novel trying to get into Zebra's headspace and empathize with her. I am not sure if I achieved these aims as the majority of the time I vacillated between thinking Zebra was either an obnoxious ass or that she was bat shit crazy. Certainly there is dysfunction there. My heart went out to her and her father during their exile from Iran - burying her mother with their bare hands, removing clothes from ravaged decomposing bodies, the garments of the dead providing protection fr ...more
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
you either get this or you don't. it's better if you do. zebra is unconsciously unironic. she is both an unquestionable victim of exile and tragedy and an illicit manufacturer of drama. she is miserably elitist, but masterfully hyperbolic and communicative of a bestial, guarded, unstable femininity. she is impossible and outrageously capricious, an erratic and unrestrained lover. she is anarchic, alone, but singularly vivacious and galvanized by literature and the scholarly pursuit of her suffer ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5, rounded down. I find this one a tricky one to review. Van der Vliet Oloomi is a talented writer and I think she may very well be a genius - if not a genius, certainly incredibly whip smart and well read. Her main character and narrator, Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini (aka Zebra) shares these same qualities - smart, well read. Unfortunately, Zebra is also frequently maddening, frustrating, annoying and possibly crazy. I didn't hate her, but neither was she an altogether likable character. In fair ...more
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
The only character I liked in this book was the bird.
Gary Moreau
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was drawn to this book, I admit, because it was so highly anticipated among the most informed voices of literature. I have grown wary of expert opinions of any kind, to be honest, so I began the book, I suppose, with some skepticism that it would meet the ‘most anticipated’ status it had achieved.

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 hil
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: female-faves



This young lady, a child, from my perspective, wrote a great novel, really.

Somehow, it reminds me of Paul and John and George, and their earlier works. How could three young boys from Liverpool create such ‘depth of life’ tunes at twenty-five?

Back to Avvo (if you allow the acronym to refer to the author).

A descendant of Iranian painters, intellectuals, and poets who considered themselves ‘autodidacts, atheists, and anarchists,’ a badge I would and do proudly wear (the aaa
Audacia Ray
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Zebra, the narrator, is a young Iranian refugee who decides to explore her roots after the death of her parents. She aspires to fully inherit her family’s “treasured roles” of Autodidacts, Anarchists, and Atheists. She is a deeply infuriating, unsentimental, hopelessly pretentious character obsessed with being a “literary terrorist.” And yet the book is very funny in a self-aware, pretentious way that quotes and mashes up lots of great literature.
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Zebra: an animal striped bland-and-white like a prisoner of war; an animal that rejects all binaries that represents ink on paper. A martyr of though. That was it. I had arrive at my new name. To the funeral director’s astonishment, I declared out loud, “Call me Zebra!”’

Zebra is a young woman who decides to retrace her journey from Iran to the U.S. after the death of her father. She is the last in a long line of self-proclaimed Iranian autodidacts, anarchists and atheists whose motto is “In t
Elizabeth Sund
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I will frequently use this book to tell the future/make decisions in a Zebraesque style by pacing my halls while reading random sentences about the void aloud to my dog. Five stars! However, I recommend this book to nobody else.

When the book became all about love, I kept thinking "Zebra, cut it out! Love is a trap created by the patriarchy to squash your inner void! Run away and talk to more grocers. Show more strangers your mobile art exhibit made of your father's coffin (which is really a sui
I'm predisposed to like a book on the power of literature with a protagonist who loves books, but I hated this. Pretentious, repetitive, and poorly written. Don't understand the critical acclaim for this novel. ...more
Apr 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
What did I just read? Why did I read it? What in me convinced me that I should persist and keep turning virtual pages and read on? I have no answers to any of those questions. I think I wasted my time reading this book and trying to figure it out. 

It's a book about immigrant girl and her father, they both left their home country and after hardships and troubles arrive in the New World. But it's not a 'normal' story. Main character is coming from a family of self-proclaimed anarchists, atheists,
Alison Hardtmann
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book

As a young girl, Zebra fled Iran with her father. The journey from their once comfortable, book-filled home to their eventual haven in a small New York apartment is a difficult one. After her father's death, Zebra decides to make the same journey in reverse, revisiting the places they traveled through on their way to America. Her first destination is Barcelona, where she meets an Italian professor, and changes her plans.

I've been examining my response to this book and trying to determine what fa
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Why it got 2 ⭐:

⭐ For moments like this.

"What path leads to freedom? I asked. Any vein in your body, I answered..."

⭐ For the sheer bliss that came over me when I got to read the protagonist expound on powerhouse literary greats. The first third of the book was less awkward.

Why it doesn't matter if you read this book:

1. (Protagonist) Zebra = insane...and not in the cool, edgy, life affirming learn-to-face-your-demons sort of way.

2. ‎Zebra is unlikeable. I'm tired of reading women who have incredib
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
DNF at 50 percent. My powers of concentration are failing me on this one, and my TBR is long and inviting, so I’m bailing. If you're really into problematic protagonists, experimental fiction and the experience of exile, you might fare better. ...more
John Madera
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Some great passages from the book:

"'A good cannibalistic. An object that calls up the ghosts of our past in order to reflect the haunting instability of our future world.'"

"'Literature is the only true form of cartography in the world.'"

"[T]he wheels of history are always turning and there is no knowing who will be run over next."

"Trust nobody and love nothing except literature, the only magnanimous host there is in this decaying world."

"Literature [...] is a nation without boundarie
Apr 02, 2018 marked it as abandoned
Can't decide if this is amazing & intelligent literature (it definitely is, in parts) or if it's too precocious for its own good. Feeling fizzled out on reading this one because the irritation is overriding the intelligence of this one. ...more
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting look at an Iranian refugee who is interested in literature, comes to NYC, falls in love, and explores her history. There’s a lot going on in this book which keeps you thinking. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is a novel from this award winning author. This is the author’s second novel.

Zebra is a 22 year old woman, born in Iran to a family who took refuge in literature from the violent present of their time. Zebra is the last of the family which describes itself as “Autodidacts, Anarchists, Atheists”, and feels responsible to hold up the family’s literary torch.

After the death of her father, Zebra decides to retrace some of the places the family has been e
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio
I find novels about the interweaving of life and art fascinating, but Call Me Zebra felt somehow shallow, especially in the light of The Idiot by Elif Batuman, or A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume, two profound meditations on the subject. On the plus side, I thought the refugee aspect of the story was moving, and it sure reached its climax at the end. Nonetheless, I don’t think I can handle phrases such as “the matrix of literature” or “the grand tour of exile” ever again. Maybe it was just b ...more
May 27, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned, iran
This review is based on the first 40% of the book because that's where I decided to stop reading it.

The protagonist of the book, a 22(?) year old Zebra, is what people these days would call “so extra”.

When two people approach her “for a minute of small talk”, this is what she had to say :

“I have no time for small talk! While you two expose yourself to the detrimental effects of a formal education — reduced self-knowledge, submission to authority, covert institutional indoctrination in linear tim
Gayla Bassham
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019-reads, fiction
Some interesting passages and the character of Zebra held some appeal, but for the most part this book was just a tedious slog.
Jan 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
Call me exasperated.

I found this book pretentious and obnoxious.
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is a very mannered book. The extent to which you like it will depend a lot on how engaging you find the narrator/protagonist’s voice and how willing you are to go with the premise that she is a literary pilgrim on a “Grand Tour of Exile”. I liked it at first and then found it ...wearying.
May 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
Incomprehensible dribbles on a page. Don’t waste your life!
I don't imagine this novel is for everyone but I devoured it. I had never heard of it but it came to me in the mail from my subscription to The Nervous Breakdown Book Club as the March selection. The author was interviewed on the associated Other People podcast, so I knew her background and that just put me right into her unique story.

Zebra is a character who is now burned into my brain. She was born in 1982 in Mazandaran Province, Iran, near the Caspian Sea. Her father, a multilingual translat
It's hard to know what to rate this one, as the writing, on a line by line basis, was excellent. It made me laugh out loud a few times too, and who doesn't appreciate a rage-filled, rebellious young woman obsessed with literature for a protagonist? Ultimately though, I found it such a difficult slog iI thought it would be disingenuous of me to rate it more than two stars. ...more
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Awards: PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Whiting Awards, 5 Under 35

Education: Brown University, University of California San Diego
Nominations: PEN/Open Book, Emerging Author

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is an award-winning Iranian-American author. Her 2018 novel Call Me Zebra (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the John Gardner Award for Fiction,

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