cover image Call Me Zebra

Call Me Zebra

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-544-94460-2

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. Years after her family’s harrowing escape, alone in New York after the death of her father (her mother died in their flight to the Kurdish border), Zebra decides to revisit some of the places where she has lived in an effort to both retrace her family’s dislocation and to compose a grand manifesto on the meaning of literature. Like Don Quixote, one of her favorite characters, Zebra’s perception of the world (and herself) is not as it appears to others, and her narration crackles throughout with wit and absurdity. As she treks across Catalonian Spain, she journeys through books and love affairs and philosophical tousles with Ludo Bembo, her also-displaced Italian foil. Their pattern of romantic coupling and intellectual uncoupling repeats itself; more interesting are Zebra’s other exploits—her strange and brilliant interpretations of art, her belief that her mother’s soul has been reincarnated inside a cockatoo, and the field-trip group she takes on pilgrimages to famous sites of exile. This is a sharp and genuinely fun picaresque, employing humor and poignancy side-by-side to tell an original and memorable story. (Feb.)