Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi has been named the winner of the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her second novel, Call Me Zebra. It’s the story of a young Iranian woman retracing the steps her father took with her decades earlier when they fled during the Iran-Iraq War, via Kurdistan and Catalonia (Barcelona). She comes from a family of “autodidacts, anarchists, and atheists” obsessed with literature. It’s a droll intellectual exploration of family, war, and the power of literature to change people.
“Once in a while a singular, adventurous and intellectually humorous voice appears that takes us on an inescapable journey,” the judges said. “Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra is a library within a library, a Borges-esque labyrinth of references from all cultures and all walks of life. In today’s visual Netflix world, Ms. Van der Vliet Oloomi’s novel performs at the highest of levels in accomplishing only what the written novel can show us.”
Van der Vliet Oloomi will receive a $15,000 prize during the PEN/Faulkner Awards ceremony on Saturday at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage. The other finalists (Richard Powers for The Overstory, Blanche McCrary Boyd for Tomb of the Unknown Racist, Ivelisse Rodriguez for Love War Stories, and Willy Vlautin for Don’t Skip Out on Me) will each receive $5,000.
The shortlist for the prestigious U.K.-based Women’s Prize for Fiction were announced this week.
The six finalists are:
Pat Barker — The Silence of the Girls
Oyinkan Braithwaite — My Sister the Serial Killer
Anna Burns — Milkman
Diana Evans — Ordinary People
Tayari Jones — An American Marriage
Madeline Miller — Circe
Milkman has already won the 2018 Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award. My Sister the Serial Killer won The Morning News’s “Tournament of Books” last month. An American Marriage was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the NAACP Image Award for Excellence in Fiction. Ordinary People was nominated for the Evans was nominated for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Miller won the 2012 Women’s Prize for her debut, Song of Achilles. Barker won the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Ghost Road.
One of the judges, Professor Kate Williams, said, “It’s a fantastic shortlist; exciting, vibrant, and adventurous. We fell totally in love with these books and the amazing worlds they created. These books are fiction at its best — brilliant, courageous and utterly captivating.”
The winner will be announced on June 5 and will receive 30,000 GBP.