With intricacy and humor, 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. In her first novel, Fra Keeler, a psychological thriller about a man who buys a house and is obsessed with the circumstances of the previous owner’s death, she showed similar acuity and dark wit; here, however, she immeasurably expands her terrain. Literature, as Zebra’s father has observed, is 'a nation without boundaries' and for this high-minded heroine, 'landscape and literature are entwined like the helix of DNA.' But the pilgrimage she undertakes in Call Me Zebra teaches her to raise her eyes and register the reality of the people who exist in her present, not just those who survive in the pages of her past.
As the paramedics futilely try to bring Abbas Abbas Hosseini back to life, his daughter Zebra — last in a long line of valiant thinkers — stands in their New York apartment dizzily watching, feeling like she’s dissolving ... What Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts did for gender and sexuality, ,Call Me Zebra does for the experience of exile, deftly threading the narrative with theory while also using theory to pull the reader in. Though Call Me Zebra happens to be fiction, both books are stuffed with complex ideas made irresistible and lyric. Both symbiotically use philosophy to clarify and amplify the human story. 'The literature produced by exiles [is designed to] objectify and lend dignity to a condition designed to deny dignity,' Zebra says, citing the postcolonial theorist Edward Said. 'By transcribing the literature of such writers we will be restoring dignity not only to literature, but also to ourselves.' A person of no particular nation, Zebra is left situated in her own body and mind.
Near the beginning of the novel Call Me Zebra, the narrator, an Iranian-American woman, arrives in Barcelona to retrace journeys she made as a refugee with her father ... For the woman, also known as Zebra, literature is a solace from trauma, and a crutch during her loneliness. Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s novel about a difficult, funny, and troubled woman is at its heart a novel about the powerful role of literature in self-discovery.
The lovers have had a fight, and frankly it’s about time ... Oloomi (“Fra Keeler”) knows exactly what she’s doing in creating a narrator-protagonist who lives almost entirely in her head — someone who has been, as Zebra describes it in typically cataclysmic terms, 'squashed by history; ground down to the atomic level; reduced to dust; pulverized; flattened to a singular surface; rendered as thin as paper, two-dimensional.' The trouble, for the reader, is that this very two-dimensionality makes Zebra seem less a character than a thought experiment infused with literary homages. That impression persists through most of the book’s first 180 pages, including when she meets Ludo and, surprisingly, turns out to be a sexual creature. Oloomi, in her rigor, asks us to inhabit Zebra’s airless, intellectualized existence without the compensations of, say, extraordinary prose or arresting atmospherics. (Those do come later.) It makes for tiresome reading, though it’s relieved whenever Ludo is around, which is not nearly enough in that first chunk of the book
The eponymous Zebra (née Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini) of Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi's second novel is a young raconteur in search of the sources of her intellectual family's wandering past and cultural legacy ... With a healthy dose of literary allusions and excerpts, Call Me Zebra is a vibrant novel of a young woman's odyssey into her family's legacy of exile and erudition.
Van der Vliet Oloomi’s unapologetically metatextual romp seems, for a while, intended to flatter readers with an affinity for Borges. There is a pleasure in recognizing her many literary references, an even greater charm in being nonplussed by the occasional allusion to an obscure author or unplaceable quote ... Much like Zebra herself, the novel demands intellectual engagement rather than emotional connection. Despite its lively prose, the story occasionally drags, as Zebra keeps traveling while never seeming to reach her goal. But in denying readers some common pleasures of reading — absorption, escapism, empathy — Van der Vliet Oloomi conveys the cold loneliness of Zebra’s grief all the better.
In Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s second novel, Call Me Zebra(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a 22-year-old Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini, who renames herself Zebra, sets out to visit the sites her family passed through while escaping Iran ... Oloomi effectively creates a fictional universe that thrives in its heavy-handedness: readers might get fed up with Zebra’s over-expressive hyper-intellectualism since much of her narration is filled with elegiac diction and hyperbolic discourse. Yet to stop there is to miss the realization that the beauty of Zebra’s character lies in the very fact that literature is hyperbolic.
A novel following a feisty heroine’s quest to reclaim her past through the power of literature—even as she navigates the murkier mysteries of love ... While the story itself lacked the pay-off I had hoped for and I empathised with those in Zebra’s path more than the protagonist herself, I am glad I read to this novel’s conclusion. Call Me Zebra’s narrative was often a little heavy-handed for my tastes, but this extreme and absurdist approach to the exploration of grief and cultural exile is undeniably memorable.
A young woman struggles to make sense of the tragedy of exile, embarking on a series of pilgrimages that may destroy her chance for happiness ... Perhaps most astonishing is that we get to revel in the intellectual formation—and emotional awakening—of a frustrating, complicated, hilarious, and, at times, deliberately annoying heroine whose very capriciousness would prevent her from surfacing in any other novel or under any other writer’s care. This is a brilliant, demented, and bizarro book that demands and rewards all the attention a reader might dare to give it.
In Oloomi’s rich and delightful novel (after Fra Keeler), 22-year-old Zebra is the last in a long line of “Autodidacts, Anarchists, Atheists” exiled from early ’90s Iran ... This is a sharp and genuinely fun picaresque, employing humor and poignancy side-by-side to tell an original and memorable story.