Book Review / Zebra, and other stories by Debra Adelaide

“Each story is subversive, touching on the things we do not often speak about, the things about ourselves that we must hide from the public in order to conform.” Ashleigh Meikle reviews Zebra by Debra Adelaide.

In this series of short stories, Debra Adelaide explores the spectrum of the human condition; from a dream about a murder and the suburban lives it almost disrupts, to stories about love affairs that start in a bookshop, to an insight into the last days of Indigenous Australian, Bennelong, who was captured by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 to serve as an interlocutor between the Indigenous Eora clan and the British. Finally, the novella-length story, Zebra, is about how an Australian Prime Minister’s life is radically changed when she is gifted a zebra.

Each story encapsulates a different aspect of the human condition; how we respond to the world and people around us and how we behave in different situations. Each story is subversive, touching on the things we do not often speak about, the things about ourselves that we must hide from the public in order to conform. Through her characters, Adelaide explores the public persona versus the private persona, and how one reconciles these two separate entities. Adelaide reveals how individuals feel pressure to ensure the strange, non-conforming aspects of their lives are kept private.

This is what made me enjoy it – that each story was so different, and each narrative has been told from a unique perspective in first, second or third person. To connect the stories, the book is divided into three parts – one, two and three – this signifies which stories are told through which perspective. Doing this was brave and unique, it is something I have never seen before and while some might think it takes away from the stories, I believe it makes each story and section, in fact the entire anthology, more powerful because it shows the world through so many different perspectives. You will find yourself wholly engrossed in one story, and then pulled wholly into another.

If I had to choose a favourite story, it would have to be the novella, Zebra which tells of a female prime minister’s experiences after receiving a zebra. What was striking about it, and indeed the rest of the anthology, was the tight, varying imagery used throughout to convey what the characters were doing. Adelaide revealed the vulnerabilities of the prime minister, showing her to be a human just like any of us, which was an authentic take on the politician view mainstream media takes, which rarely shows a relatable, emotional side to politicians.

Each character represents people at different stages of life, at various times and spaces in our lives – whether it is the culmination of many things, or a single instance where we cross paths with a like-minded person in a bookstore and start an affair. The excellent subtlety in each story is enjoyable. It allows the reader to be creative in using their imagination to fill in the gaps about what happened. The power of this anthology is that anyone can see themselves in these characters and situations. The subtlety also allows the reader to imagine how they themselves might handle the events of the story.

Adelaide has created a series of stories and a novella that are engulfing and subversive, that allow the depths of human nature to be explored and the reality, so to speak, is shown here in an unusual and intriguing way.


Ashleigh Meikle is a student, book blogger, and aspiring writer. More examples of her reviews can be found at


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