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Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet…

Call Me Zebra (original 2018; edition 2018)

by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Author)

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915198,563 (3.14)25
Title:Call Me Zebra
Authors:Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Author)
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2018), 304 pages
Collections:Your library, To read

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Call Me Zebra by Azareen van der Vliet Oloomi (2018)


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Zebra is taught to memorize books from an early age, when she is born in a library in Iran. Zebra goes through a lot, that is mostly alluded to, when she has to walk to the border to get out of Iran with her dad -- this takes months --and then they drift through other places for many years, feeling less and less like themselves. Zebra's father dies early in the book and Zebra is largely already alienated from other people, so she goes on a Grand Tour of Exile, to retrace her steps she took around the world as a child, but also to pay homage to many of her favorite literary persons and walk their paths. Zebra puts intelligence above all, especially as she feels that "in the wake of the Islamic Republic of Iran... there had been a near total physical and psychic massacre of the country's leading thinkers, writers, intellectuals." (page 223) Zebra's intelligence is one of the last things that remain with her and one of the few things that can't be taken from her. So her intelligence is on an extreme level. I think the main problem people will have with the book: Zebra's attitude and voice. Zebra is a bit pretentious (someone she is close with even calls her pretentious towards the end of the book). I think if the writer made Zebra less irritating, people would be more willing to stick with the book. But this is Zebra. She is the result of her experiences. Everything a person endures shapes their character. There are many other irritating characters in other books that didn't survive warzones. I am willing to give a character more slack in their personality if they have been through things. I am much more willing to give Zebra a break than I am to the jerks in 'Fates and Furies' by Lauren Groff or the entitled kid in 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt. I can see why Zebra might be annoying to some, but her voice is a unique one. Therefore, the writing is unique. To me, she is more interesting the way she is. Zebra is supposed to be a frustrating, difficult person. This isn't a book where the plot is at the forefront. I can see what the writer was trying to do here and I think she 1,000% nailed it. There are quite a few great lines in the book. It's interesting to me the writer tries to make this a funny book while the base is so heartbreaking. It's hard to laugh when you know what Zebra has been through. But possibly this is part of the point? In interviews, the writer says Zebra's story is an exaggeration of her own life. I don't know if it's because I'm close in age to the writer, or so many of the things that Zebra says hit home for me, but this book is certainly for me. Zebra might be a know-it-all but there are reasons for that explained in the book if you get far enough. In one moment, another character asks Zebra "how have you been?" and Zebra realizes no one has asked her this before. It's entirely heartbreaking but also says so much about how she became who she is. And I find examples like this throughout. Knowledge is her shield from a world she feels isn't on her side. This isn't a perfect book but I definitely can appreciate the humor, heart and the unique voice of Zebra and her insight. It seems my main point of this review is to defend and make excuses for Zebra, but I feel the book (and Zebra) deserve more of a chance if you can have patience with Zebra as I know that will be the main issue many have with the book. This reminds me of Flannery O'Connor' s eccentric characters (mostly Wise Blood): heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. Also, Bartleby by Melville, Kafka, A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, A Confederacy of Dunces, A Line Made By Walking.... possibly All the Birds, Singing. ( )
  booklove2 | Feb 5, 2019 |
2019 TOB--This book was not for me. I probably wouldn't have finished it if it hadn't been in the TOB. I read a blurb from the author in which she says she hopes people laugh when they read this book. But she didn't make the character comical--she made her pitiful, arrogant, sad and totally unlikable. Thinly plot driven--primarily character driven and I hated the character. ( )
  kayanelson | Feb 3, 2019 |
Some titles in the literary genre can be challenging to read. Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra is one of those titles. But when does the adjective ‘challenging’ become a weakness rather than a strength? It will depend on the reader. From the opening line of this novel’s first person narrative, often more like an oration, it is clear Zebra is an abrasive character. One of course cannot help but feel sympathy for the immeasurable loss and trauma this character experienced at such a young age, and feelings of exile that persist into adulthood. But, Zebra does little to let people in. Read full review >> ( )
  BookloverBookReviews | Feb 2, 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 exiled to. She meets Ludo, a famous Spanish author, also displaced, and the two find a physical and intellectual attraction to one another.

I have no idea why I chose to read this novel, I don’t like stream of consciousness narrative mode, and I have very little interest in the troubled minds of 22 year old women. That being said, I found Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi difficult to put down.
Almost like watching a train wreck happening and you can’t look away.

This is a sharp, yet bizarre and demented story. The protagonist is so self-absorbed in her own journey, literature and ancestors that it’s almost laughable. She expects that any moment the rest of the world would embrace her vision of reality and the “truth”.

I did enjoy the homages to some of my favorite writers, and some which I appreciate but will probably never read. The dead writers are very real to Zebra, real as any other person who spews wisdom and advice at you.

I felt that the author took a wicked pleasure in trying to challenge her audience combining geopolitics with literature.
And she’s laughing all the way to the end.

Some of the book felt like it had to be read out loud. I loved how lyrical it was, every sentence was structured to be said, not read. It’s not an easy book to skim, as this novel has to be read slowly and deliberately.

For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com ( )
  ZoharLaor | Jan 15, 2018 |
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However many beings there are in whatever realms of being might exist, whether they are born from an egg or born from a womb, born from the water or born from the air, whether they have form or no form, whether they have perception or no perception or neither perception or no perception, in whatever conceivable realm of being one might conceive of beings, in the realm of complete nirvana I shall liberate them all. And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated.    --The Diamond Sutra
For all my dead relatives    --Zebra
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Illiterates, abecedarians, elitists, rodents all -- I will tell you this: I, Zebra, born Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini on a scorching August day in 1982, am a descendent of a long line of self-taught men who repeatedly abandoned their capital, Tehran, where blood has been washed with blood for a hundred years, to take refuge in Nowshahr, in the languid, damp regions of Mazandaran.
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"From an award-winning young author, a novel following a feisty heroine's idiosyncratic quest to reclaim her past by mining the wisdom of her literary icons--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 made from Iran to the United States years ago. Books are Zebra's only companions--until she meets Ludo. Their connection is magnetic; their time together fraught. Zebra overwhelms him with her complex literary theories, her concern with death, and her obsession with history. He thinks she's unhinged; she thinks he's pedantic. Neither are wrong; neither can let the other go. They push and pull their way across the Mediterranean, wondering with each turn if their love, or lust, can free Zebra from her past."--… (more)

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