Call Me Zebra
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 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.

Call Me Zebra Details

TitleCall Me Zebra
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 6th, 2018
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN-139780544944602
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Abandoned, Writing, Books About Books, Novels, Cultural, Iran

Call Me Zebra Review

  • Vivek Tejuja
    January 1, 1970
    Once in a while, there comes a book that infuses literature and life so brilliantly that you can’t help but reread it the minute you are done with it. That is what happened to me when I just finished reading, “Call Me Zebra” by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. I had to reread it. To experience the prose again, the beauty and sadness of it and to find comfort in the fact that there are people who seek refuge in literature, just like me. 22-year-old Zebra is the last one standing in the long line of Once in a while, there comes a book that infuses literature and life so brilliantly that you can’t help but reread it the minute you are done with it. That is what happened to me when I just finished reading, “Call Me Zebra” by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. I had to reread it. To experience the prose again, the beauty and sadness of it and to find comfort in the fact that there are people who seek refuge in literature, just like me. 22-year-old Zebra is the last one standing in the long line of “Autodidacts, Anarchists, Atheists” of a family exiled from early ‘90s Iran. Years after her family’s harrowing and long-winding escape, alone in New York (after her father’s death; her mother died while they were escaping), Zebra decides to retrace her family’s dislocation and compose a grand manifesto on what really is literature. I cannot stop gushing about the book. Yes, it did take me some time to get into it but when I did, it was a breeze. It was like going on a road trip with a friend and being privy to their life and secrets. There is wit and absurdity and love (some sort of love) with Ludo Bembo. There is a strange obsession with death, art, history and life. Oloomi has drawn a character so rich, with all her flaws and character strengths that you cannot help but fall in love with Zebra. Ludo and Zebra’s love is eccentric. It is the kind of love you want and don’t want. You might yearn for it and then think about not wanting it. I loved when that happened to me while reading this book. “Call Me Zebra” breaks all form in terms of writing, inner monologues, character and above all the way a story is to be read and savoured.
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  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 it. Others might like this type of writing style, but I found it arduous.
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  • Audacia Ray
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Ola
    January 1, 1970
    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, 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, and autodidacts, who are feeding on literature, who live to transcribe words of writes before them. .1 percent is mentioned few times, that Zebra and her family belong to the .1 percent of people that accessed the higher world of literature, the Matrix of Literature as Zebra starts to call it. Zebra's sens of superiority and how judgmental she is was so annoying for me. She treats everyone she doesn't believe to be part of Pyramid of Exile and who doesn't have access to Matrix to Literature as a worse and pitiful human being. At one point she leaves New York to start her Pilgrimage of Exile. She goes to Barcelona, meets a guy there and have some kind of love-hate relationship with him. She moves in with him after some time and starts some pitiful group that she drags on some pointless pilgrimages. She's neurotic, disrespectful and weird in a way that I cannot appreciate.Call me Zebra is probably a book with a deeper profound meaning, that I didn't found. I'm not part of the .1 percent as Zebra is, and I'm just not capable of understanding or enjoying this book. It didn't make me feel anything. I was tirelessly checking how many pages of this book is left, it was a painful experience to read it to the end. But I did it, and now I'm left with question - why, oh why did I persevere? What did I hope will happen?
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  • thebookiv
    January 1, 1970
    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 incredibl 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 incredible and fascinating niches, but who are essentially garbage humans. Cue everything after the beginning, when apparently it becomes difficult to not be an asshole.3. Call Me Zebra = WTF? The moral of this story is that you can be an erratic, arrogant, psychopath, stalk him after continuously upbraiding him, and he'll still have sex with you?Umm....noooo? Maybe? I'm not so sure suddenly. Maybe things are different in Europe...I wish it was empowering. I wish it did offer some insight. Something that wasn't an eloquent bag of crazy. Something I could utilize. Metabolize. Call into my life by learning how to call it in my own way, with Zebra as my guide through the gamut of male belletristic greats.And yes. I did read the whole thing. Unlike Zebra, I have it within myself to be an asshole after contemptuous, not-so-cool you is presented in your entirety.Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Will
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 fairness to the character der Vliet Oloomi has created, Zebra did experience a horrifying journey when exiled from Iran at an early age. She is a damaged character. Sadly, for this reader, damaged but irritatingly so. I just wanted to tell her to "Snap out of it."This is a somewhat challenging read and its slow pace (it did gather some steam towards the end) accounted for it not being a particularly enjoyable read, despite some comic moments in the absurdist tradition. Despite my criticism, this is still an intelligent novel using literature and literary theory as Zebra retraces her Iranian exile. A book I admired far more than I enjoyed.
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  • Stacia
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Lynne
    January 1, 1970
    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
  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/29/bo...
  • Chaitra
    January 1, 1970
    Well, that was exhausting. There was something there, other people seem to have enjoyed it, I kept reading it far beyond the what I would have thought was the limit of my tolerance, but I didn’t get anything out of it.Zebra is Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini, who comes from a long line of Autodidacts, Anarchists and Atheists, more literally from Iran, into the middle of a revolution. Her father feeds her a steady diet of literature and his own brand of philosophy and one day flees Iran with her mother Well, that was exhausting. There was something there, other people seem to have enjoyed it, I kept reading it far beyond the what I would have thought was the limit of my tolerance, but I didn’t get anything out of it.Zebra is Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini, who comes from a long line of Autodidacts, Anarchists and Atheists, more literally from Iran, into the middle of a revolution. Her father feeds her a steady diet of literature and his own brand of philosophy and one day flees Iran with her mother and her, on the back of a donkey. Before making it past the border they lose the donkey and her mother and from then on it’s just the dad inflicting his madness on his daughter. When the novel begins, Bibi is facing her father’s imminent death. Once he dies, she embarks on what she calls a Pilgrimage of Exile, having changed her name to Zebra, Dame of the Void.Cut to Barcelona and her pilgrimage quickly becomes derailed, because she meets a philologist by name Ludo, and they spend long hours having sex and quoting selected literature at each other, mainly to wound. It’s a toxic relationship, Zebra seems to recognize that and seems to want to perpetuate it. To that end she follows him home after he has left her in the middle of her suicide attempt, starts up a sort of a pilgrimage club with other misfits, and generally makes life hell for both herself and for Ludo. Ludo repeatedly leaves her, she repeatedly pursues him, and when Ludo inevitably succumbs to her and claims to love her, she throws that right back at him. I’m sorry for both these characters and for those who had the bad luck to encounter them, both within the novel and outside of it - namely me. Actually, mostly I’m sorry for myself. Being a literary terrorist is all very well, although I don’t even know what the hell it means, because the lady accomplishes so little despite claims to grandeur bordering on megalomania, but one of my main questions at the end of it is, is this book in support of literature or against it? Zebra, despite having memorized weighty tomes, despite having instant recollection, shows no empathy. This is true beyond the confines of her toxic relationship with Ludo, it’s in her every interaction with another human being. So what has literature done for her? She’s done nothing for it herself - regurgitating quotes randomly from other, better, writers as a form of patchwork philosophy doesn’t qualify, does it? She needs help - she’s had a traumatic childhood, what seems like a very isolated upbringing and now she is processing her father’s death - at the very least she’s suffering from depression. Other people seem to glancingly understand this, but instead of sending her to therapy, they seem to either foot the bill for her expensive pilgrimage or get in bed with her. Are these people even pretending to be real?I acknowledge there could be another layer to this whole thing, a subtext I missed because I was busy trying to get through the book. Her entire epiphany at the end of the book was that she doesn’t love because everything she loved disappeared. It felt paltry, because she’s still crazy, she’s still dreaming of a Ludo who doesn’t exist outside of her head and of course, she’s still stalking him. She’s still very much in the middle tier of the pyramid of exiles, and her thoughts on seeing the people next to her in the boat that’s carrying her to Genoa is that they haven’t lived. How patronizing - how would she know about anyone else’s life or the depths of another person’s grief. One would think that this is what literature would afford - an ability to put oneself in another’s shoes or at least be aware that there are others in the universe besides yourself - but it seems that even in the end, this seems to be lost on her. It bugged me. I also bored me, which was worse. In any case, it’s done. Maybe people with a better sense of both literature and philosophy will have a better time of it. I hope.
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  • jenni
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 suffering.
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  • Zohar - ManOfLaBook.com
    January 1, 1970
    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 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
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  • Brita
    January 1, 1970
    The only character I liked in this book was the bird.
  • Rochel
    January 1, 1970
    What a tedious book. I can’t believe I finished this, but I did, hoping I would eventually enjoy it. Nope, it was a rough read and honestly, there was no ending.
  • Judy
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 translator of great literature, taught her ten languages. He was the last male of four generations of self-taught poets, philosophers, and painters. His method of teaching the daughter who would carry on this line was memorization of long sections from the world's great literature. Zebra proved an apt and eager pupil who "picked up languages the way some people pick up viruses."I don't know Iranian history. I have read about the Iranian Revolution of 1979 in Afar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. I knew Iran and Iraq had a long war but the rest was a blur to me until President George Bush declared war on Iraq in 2003. If he had had this novel to read, he may have thought twice.Sometime in the 1980s Zebra and her parents became refugees, fleeing Iran because her father was wanted for crimes against the state. During their treacherous flight, her mother died. Zebra and her father eventually made it to the United States where he died of old age and the sorrows of an exile. By that time Zebra was 22, still studying literature, and made nearly insane by the loss of her final parent.The rest of the novel relates her method of dealing with it all. She wrote a manifesto containing all her beliefs about what she named The Matrix of Literature, a fascinating piece of philosophy in itself. With help from one of her professors she set off to retrace the steps of her exile as a means to honor her parents and to see if she could recover from her loss and grief. I wondered if all the literature carried in her mind would safeguard her or lead her into a deeper madness.They did both. Her story is dense with references to literature and with her fragile mental and emotional state. I found Zebra a frustrating character but I also cared for her. Her lifestyle, so capricious and so desperate, made me fear for her while also wishing she could just get over herself. Ultimately I was thrown into the perils of what she and her family survived. Much of the last part of the story takes place in Barcelona, a city I always love to read about. It may seem that displaced people and unwanted refugees are a recent development but the novel made me remember that these conditions have gone on for time immemorial. Where Exit West by Moshin Hamid gave me the bare bones, Call Me Zebra gave me the details of how this one family was nearly destroyed by revolution and political turmoil in the Middle East. The author carries similar scars and I think recovered from her own traumas by writing this novel.
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  • Stacey A. Prose and Palate
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars. Review to come
  • Stephine
    January 1, 1970
    A wonderful, mystical read with a humorous, witty narrator who makes you question an understanding of self, love, and all the borders we draw in our personal, public, emotional, mental, and physical lives through a love of literature.
  • Gary Moreau
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 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 best seller 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.
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  • Ella
    January 1, 1970
    First of all, I need to tell everyone who plans to read this that the audiobook is painful, so go with the printed version if you believe anything I have to say. Zebra (formerly Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini, AKA "Dame of the Void",) the main character, is quite a challenge, though she knows it so that makes her a bit more bearable. She was born, quite literally, in a library among the books in Iran early in the war against Iraq. She is the last in a long line of autodidacts, all of whom pledge to “ First of all, I need to tell everyone who plans to read this that the audiobook is painful, so go with the printed version if you believe anything I have to say. Zebra (formerly Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini, AKA "Dame of the Void",) the main character, is quite a challenge, though she knows it so that makes her a bit more bearable. She was born, quite literally, in a library among the books in Iran early in the war against Iraq. She is the last in a long line of autodidacts, all of whom pledge to “Love nothing except literature.” As an exile or refugee, it's hard to live and breathe literature. (Literature tends to be heavy and hard to carry.) So they do it through memorization, and Zebra has committed to memory passages from every book imaginable. She takes her commitment to love nothing but literature very seriously, and she has no time to waste on people who don't share her passion and reason, which makes Zebra very alone if not lonely.Not only is she alone -- perhaps, when she imagines her dead father counseling her against love, she is actually using literature as a defense against all of the crushing aloneness she's experiencing. While she's in intense pain and constantly being displaced -- a permanent exile -- she's hilarious to watch, despite her circumstances. Beckett, Blanchod, Borges are her creed. She constantly runs through all the advice she's memorized for reason. She has to advance the matrix of literature, she has to experience the void to figure out "what is [my] role in my miserly, ill-fated life?" Zebra is keeping people at arm's length because she doesn't have room for their pain too.Zebra is sure she can create a formula for love, for life, for literature. She is pretty sure she is an oracle sometimes. Sentimentality is bad. Reason and knowledge are good. This is what she molds her life around with a take-no-prisoners approach...until she meets Ludo."A soul that knows it is loved but does not itself love betrays its sediment; what is at the bottom comes up." -- NietzscheSo, Zebra has some life lessons to learn, no matter how smart and self-educated she is. Meanwhile she stridently barks quotes at the reader until this reader was ready to either submit or give up completely on this book. What I decided to do was set it down for a week and pick it back up. That break was what I needed. It didn't hurt that Zebra herself was in the process of being broken. She finally figures out, painfully, that perhaps home and people and love of something other than literature might be worth it. "Had I been waiting in vain for my life to become legible?" Of course, you had, Zebra. In short, this is an hilarious approach to showing how hardened we sometimes must become to simply survive. Exile is written in her DNA, along with all those books. (Oh, and there's a bird - which is very important and usually a good sign.) She doesn't seem to know it, or at least want to admit it, but she's trying to cope with being displaced, constantly on the move, trying to find a place that can be her home. Her manifesto and all her reading (much like mine, I'll admit) is about trying to find out who she is, or who she can be, what sort of life is possible? She is trying to quantify and organize senseless acts of brutality and personal pain. With her smarty-pants style and strident manner, she eventually learns that other people and their pain (including aviary pain) will fit into her life and story if she can bear to allow it. Zebra is amusing, but she has quite a story to teach everyone, if we can hang in there with her. She may seem like a nut, but she's just a broken girl figuring out life in the best way she can. She may seem like a nut, but she's a good egg actually.
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  • Lucy
    January 1, 1970
    Incomprehensible dribbles on a page. Don’t waste your life!
  • Susie Wang
    January 1, 1970
    Let's face it, this is a seriously weird book. It's like Freshwater but with literature instead of religion. The thing with those two books, is that they were really intriguing at first, luring you in with their exotic and foreign settings. Then they start to spiral down a weird path when the main character starts down a road of certain madness.Zebra is a unique character, combining cynical anarchism with some kind of insecurity. She hides behind "the mask of literature" because she believes she Let's face it, this is a seriously weird book. It's like Freshwater but with literature instead of religion. The thing with those two books, is that they were really intriguing at first, luring you in with their exotic and foreign settings. Then they start to spiral down a weird path when the main character starts down a road of certain madness.Zebra is a unique character, combining cynical anarchism with some kind of insecurity. She hides behind "the mask of literature" because she believes she doesn't deserve a spot in the actual world or the privilege to love and be loved as a "banal" person. But she also thinks she's above all that. This book is about how she has come to terms with how she's actually not that different from the ordinary people, and that she also needs love to live.It's a relate-able story when you put it like that. But with Zebra's thought spirals spanning from Nietzsche to General Franco, it's kind of hard to follow for an average reader, like myself. I've also read reviews here that categorizes the literary references as too pretentious or excessive. But I guess I'm not one to judge such matters.That been said, I did enjoy some of the humorous moments in the book. I laughed out loud several times while reading it. The serious tone of Zebra's narrative and the ridiculousness of situations often create a contrast that made me laugh.
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  • Vel Veeter
    January 1, 1970
    I wanted this book to be good. I would say better, but I was so annoyed as I was reading it, I couldn’t even muster up enough. It’s perfectly well written throughout most of the novel, but I started getting my early sense of the cracks. But I started to get really annoyed.The book is a lot like a mix between Matilda and Exit West…so elements of emigre literature and statelessness and then the love and redemptive power of books.But then, but then, the book goes out of its way to link itself to Do I wanted this book to be good. I would say better, but I was so annoyed as I was reading it, I couldn’t even muster up enough. It’s perfectly well written throughout most of the novel, but I started getting my early sense of the cracks. But I started to get really annoyed.The book is a lot like a mix between Matilda and Exit West…so elements of emigre literature and statelessness and then the love and redemptive power of books.But then, but then, the book goes out of its way to link itself to Don Quixote, even making an allusion and then explaining the allusion. (Oh your dad called a dog Rocinante, ok…..oh ok, now your narrator is telling me this is Don Quixote (the most famous novel ever)’s horse).And so I get annoyed not only because of the unnecessary condescension, but because her character is NOT a Don Quixote. We’re supposed to love her and think she’s great and be charmed by her, while Don Quixote has plenty of charming qualities, he is being lampooned in his own novel. So it does not work.Add all this to literally dumping lists of famous and impressive authors the character is reading at our feet without attempting to weave their influence into the story, only to list them and move on. A crime authors can do is remind me of the better books I should be reading instead. And a worse crime is to have their main character say something (fakely) charming and then have another character just laugh at them.
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  • Tommi
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 bad timing, coming to this right after Batuman and Baume.
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  • Erin
    January 1, 1970
    I'm afraid I simply did not get this book at all. I was intrigued by the idea of a woman connecting to her dead parents and her heritage through literature, but I was just left confused the entire time. The references went way over my head, and the MC was just way too eccentric for my taste. I found myself sort of skimming most of it (which I NEVER do!). Also, I hate relationships in fiction where it's super clear the characters hate each other but still remain together. This might be a good rea I'm afraid I simply did not get this book at all. I was intrigued by the idea of a woman connecting to her dead parents and her heritage through literature, but I was just left confused the entire time. The references went way over my head, and the MC was just way too eccentric for my taste. I found myself sort of skimming most of it (which I NEVER do!). Also, I hate relationships in fiction where it's super clear the characters hate each other but still remain together. This might be a good read for others but definitely not for me.
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  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    Sometimes you read a novel and you're left with more questions than answers or satisfaction. I think that's what the author intended here. I still don't understand why Zebra chose that name for herself. What was wrong with her given name? Did she really have no other family? Why had they not reached out to other members of the Iranian American community upon arrival to the U.S.? Did her father get the burial he deserved? My goodness. At times I couldn't tell if she was extraordinarily arrogant o Sometimes you read a novel and you're left with more questions than answers or satisfaction. I think that's what the author intended here. I still don't understand why Zebra chose that name for herself. What was wrong with her given name? Did she really have no other family? Why had they not reached out to other members of the Iranian American community upon arrival to the U.S.? Did her father get the burial he deserved? My goodness. At times I couldn't tell if she was extraordinarily arrogant or a bit unhinged. Was there a bit of psychosis at play here? Ah! So many questions. My expectations of this book were extraordinarily high because it's on numerous Must Read lists or highly anticipated for 2018 lists, but I have to say I wasn't really impressed overall.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    On the list of 46 books by women of color to read in 2018.
  • Alice Heiserman
    January 1, 1970
    I was extremely excited when I began this book due to the strong fast pace of the language, but there was no let-up, no growth in the character. The writing, like the character, became tedious. There are flashes of brilliance such as "I picked up languages the way some people pick up viruses. I was armed with literature." Basically, this story is about an ultra-intellectual female Iranian migrant and her quest to explore the world, but it's like a baked potato with too many toppings--too loaded I was extremely excited when I began this book due to the strong fast pace of the language, but there was no let-up, no growth in the character. The writing, like the character, became tedious. There are flashes of brilliance such as "I picked up languages the way some people pick up viruses. I was armed with literature." Basically, this story is about an ultra-intellectual female Iranian migrant and her quest to explore the world, but it's like a baked potato with too many toppings--too loaded to be palatable.
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  • Penny (Literary Hoarders)
    January 1, 1970
    I've seen this book cover many times - and it was because of the book's cover that I didn't really dig into what this book is about. Today, I finally read a description of it and have since added it to my TBR mountain! (there is this cover Call Me Zebra that appeals to me much more, but I guess right? You can't always judge a book by its cover!)
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  • Helen Marquis
    January 1, 1970
    At the heart of "Call Me Zebra" is a heart-breaking story of a young Iranian girl, who flees her war-torn country with her parents, losing her mother en route. She settles in New York with her father, but when he also passes, she decides to head on a reverse pilgrimage, retracing the path via which she and her father escaped to their new life all those years ago. She returns to Barcelona, and gets involved in a pretty toxic relationship with a guy called Ludo.Her luggage consists mostly of her f At the heart of "Call Me Zebra" is a heart-breaking story of a young Iranian girl, who flees her war-torn country with her parents, losing her mother en route. She settles in New York with her father, but when he also passes, she decides to head on a reverse pilgrimage, retracing the path via which she and her father escaped to their new life all those years ago. She returns to Barcelona, and gets involved in a pretty toxic relationship with a guy called Ludo.Her luggage consists mostly of her family treasures, but she carries with her the spirits of her parents and a family love of literature. Oh, and a 100mph stream of consciousness way of telling her story. It's this final point that makes this a challenging read. While Zebra's story is the fascinating tale of a young refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of war, the writing style of this novel detracts from the tale at its heart.Zebra's love of literature means her voice often borders on the extremely pretentious, which can be alienating as you try to keep up with her. And while she may couch the horrors of reality in overly verbose and florid descriptions to lessen their impact on her psyche, as a reading experience it's not the most user-friendly.An interesting book with a truly unique style, sadly it wasn't one that gelled with me.
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  • Ruby
    January 1, 1970
    Call Me Zebra came highly recommended to me and I liked the subject. A 22 year old girl retraces her life as an exile from one country to the other.... After she had lost her family she wanted to keep the "Hossieni" commandments alive and kicking and she takes a pilgrimage of exile through literature. For the reader it is challenging book but for me, the book meandered along the various literary figures and gave me a pilgrimage of literature. Adorned with quotes and writings of Dante, Nietzsche Call Me Zebra came highly recommended to me and I liked the subject. A 22 year old girl retraces her life as an exile from one country to the other.... After she had lost her family she wanted to keep the "Hossieni" commandments alive and kicking and she takes a pilgrimage of exile through literature. For the reader it is challenging book but for me, the book meandered along the various literary figures and gave me a pilgrimage of literature. Adorned with quotes and writings of Dante, Nietzsche, Neruda, Borges, Beckett, it was an absolute delight to have been turning page by page, in a bittersweet wait of who would be introduced next? The writing style is exemplary although ideas are repetitive but each time they are brought up again, it is in a different style and likable. You could very well understand that the protagonist is not an average person who would come across in life but a rare blend of eccentric geniuses one have just read about.It deals with exile as a subject not in a melancholy way but a little differently. " No matter how many times you try to replant an uprooted tree, it seems always to fail to take to the soil. The exiles never outruns history."In my opinion, the end could have been a lot of better. A little peep into some quotes from the book.Here's to The Anarchist, Autodidacts and Atheists OF THE WORLD. 0.1 % " You could say I am the AAA's most militant member." " I picked up languages the way some people pick up viruses. I was armed with literature"" Hear me! We have pitched our tattered tents in the dark forests of literature!"" Oh pit of debris, ferocious cave of the shipwrecked. In you the wars and the flights accumulated." - Neruda I liked this book for the writing and beautiful sentences and being a book about books and literature!!
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