Call Me Zebra
Winner of The 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
After the death of her father, an exiled Iranian man of letters, the bookish twenty-two-year-old Zebra finds herself alone in New York and decides to retrace the steps of her traumatic flight with her family from their homeland in the 1990s, hoping that in the process she will be inspired to write a major manifesto on literature. Her first stop is Barcelona, where she meets the Italian Ludo, who becomes her lover, intellectual sparring partner and travelling companion in her picaresque meanderings around Catalonia.
A natural-born raconteur, Zebra takes the reader on an irresistible journey through her thoughts, as she conceives elaborate theories about art and is increasingly convinced that her mother has been reincarnated as a cockatoo. Sparkling with wit and mischief and brimming with imaginative vignettes and unconventional musings, Call Me Zebra is a riotous, erudite, unpredictable novel about literature, lust and dislocation.
Read an interview with the author here.
Azareen reads from Call Me Zebra
Azareen in interview with her Alma editor
Hearken ye fellow misfits, migrants, outcasts, squint-eyed bibliophiles, library-haunters and book stall-stalkers: Here is a novel for you.
The Wall Street Journal
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
It’s all my blood, this black poison! / I am the sinister mirror / Where the Fury sees herself.’ This could also be an ode to the furiously introspective, fiercely literary young narrator of Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s second novel, Call Me Zebra. […] In this ferociously intelligent novel, Van der Vliet Oloomi […] relays Zebra’s brainy, benighted struggles as a tragicomic picaresque whose fervid logic and cerebral whimsy recall the work of Bolaño and Borges.
The New York Times Book Review
An arresting exploration of grief alongside a powder keg of a romance.
This novel is not about a zebra but about a whole sharp, amazing, malicious and wicked zoo. Please enjoy responsibly.
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 cliché, 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 Green Girl
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.
Filled with literature, art and sex, Call Me Zebra is rambling and picaresque, as quirky and funny as its rambunctious narrator. Call Me Zebra is a grand story, but as Zebra describes herself when looking in a mirror, it is also as troubling as literature, as disquieting as language itself.
This book will blow you away. Call Me Zebra is likely to be every book nerd’s bizarre dream.
A major work on the importance of literature.
The Boston Globe
What Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts did for gender and sexuality, Call Me Zebra does for the experience of exile.
The Los Angeles Review of Books
Acerbic wit and a love of literature color this picaresque novel...By turns, hilarious and poignant, painting a magnetic portrait of a young woman you can’t help but want to know more about.
A sexy complicated affair... geopolitically savvy.
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)
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.