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Zoli Hardcover – 31 Aug 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; 1st Edition edition (31 Aug. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297847597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297847595
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,334,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colum McCann, originally from Dublin, Ireland, is the author of five novels and two collections of stories and has won numerous international literary awards for his writing. His film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for a short-film Oscar in 2005. Zoli, Dancer and This Side of Brightness were international bestsellers and his latest novel, Let the Great World Spin, won the 2009 National Book Award. His fiction has been published in twenty-seven languages. Colum McCann lives in New York.

(Photo credit: James Higgins)

Product Description


A great book and a marvellously crafted story. I loved the different angles, the images and the depiction of the Roma. This is life without being sentimental or defensive. (Roddy Doyle)

¿If a writer's highest calling is to imagine what it is to be ¿other¿, then Colum McCann is a giant amongst us - fearless, huge-hearted, a poet with every living breath¿ (Peter Carey)

¿I review a great many Roma-themed manuscripts for publishers, but none has ever moved me as profoundly as the haunting story of Zoli. With its stark imagery it takes one deep into the heart of World War II Europe¿ (Ian Hancock Director of Romani Archives, Universtiy of Texas)

Zoli is an assiduously crafted and beautifully haunting story of Europe from one of Ireland's very best novelists. Every book from Colum Mc Cann extends his range and excavates new territories. He is an audacious and wonderfully skilled writer (Joseph O'Connor)

McCann's strongest suit is his brilliant ability to recreate a remote world and era...a worthy addition to the growing literature of Roma life. (Michael Arditti DAILY MAIL (8.9.06))

It is here that McCann's novel transcends its surface manifestation as an historical novel and reveals itself for what it is - an unblinking meditation on the significance, value and challenge of cultural diversity. It is a novel about now and here, about how we cope - or fail to cope - with the others or Others in our midst....McCann's novel is a rare feat (Gerry Dukes IRISH INDEPENDENT (9.9.06))

This is a haunting and lyrical story, well written and researched. (TIMES (9.9.06))

This beautifully written, heartfelt book is both compelling and moving from start to finish; a true page-turner that is unafraid to face the darker sides of life while evoking the joys and kindnesses that surprise and sustain us all. (WATERSTONE'S BOOKS QUARTERLY)

McCann intelligently poses complicated questions about immigration and identity that are deeply relevant today. His prose is sharp and scintillatingly sensual, and the final moment in which Zolo finally rediscovers herself is incontrovertibly moving...[a] beautiful, thoughtful novel. (Ed Wood INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY (17.9.06))

McCann is as fine, and persuasive, a storyteller as any other working in English today...Much more could be said about the beauty and subtle judgement of this, McCann's finest novel, but what emerges most powerfully is a sense of compassion, even identification, with a people, who, because of the stories told about them, only need appear on a country road to inspire hatred and fear from their fellow man. (John Burnside THE SCOTSMAN (16.9.06))

[a] parable of love, betrayal and loss on a European scale...In an epigram to his previous bestselling novel Dancer, McCann quotes William Maxwell, who that "in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw". But the force of McCann's language is so convincing that these "lies" are melded into a compelling parable that in the end brings hope as Zoli begins to sing again. (Lucinda Byatt SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY (18.9.06))

Last March, Dublin-born McCann was inducted into the Hennessy Irish literary hall of fame - with his haunting, poetic work he has surely earned his place among the country's greats. (METRO (Ireland, 30.8.06))

'McCann has created possibly his most memorable character in Zoli, and brilliantly captured the physical and intellectual turmoil of those years in this superbly written and deeply affecting book. Moving backwards and forwards in time, it is perpetually challenging and conjures extraordinarily vivid images on almost every page. Zoli is a novel to get lost in.' (Dermot Bolger SUNDAY INDEPENDENT (24.9.06))

There is great warmth in the novel, sparked by the author's genuine sense of commitment to this woman in both her actual and fictional forms. The story of Zoli deserves to be told, and with his gift for unpicking the seams of history, McCann brings to the fore its sad keynotes of manipulation and betrayal. (Eva Patten THE IRISH TIMES (23.9.06))

McCann has immersed himself in gypsy history and poetry, so that we get an extraordinary insight into the gypsy mind and philosophy of ZOLI...The book is graphic about the persecution of the Roma, but makes no attempt to sentimentalise them. McCann has produced a deeply moving book that will possibly change your view of the world. (Alex Moffatt IRISH MAIL *****)

McCann tells his story from several different perspectives - a contemporary journalist, Swann, Stransky, and Zoli herself. With each voice McCann performs an astonishing feat of ventriloquism and mimicry, even creating one of Zoli's poems...His novel is a hymn to specificity, a clamour against homogenisation and...McCann doesn't fall for ersatz philosophising or elevate his gypsy characters into noble savages. (Richard Eyre GUARDIAN (30.9.06))

a delicately crafted story...This extraordinary tale of gritty and poignant survival, told in multiple voices, is carried in McCann's crystalline, action-packed style. (Michelene Wandor SUNDAY TIMES (8.10.06))

his prose is...beautiful...and characters are pinned with deft precision. (Susan Elderkin SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (8.10.06))

a fascinating novel...McCann has created a brilliant heroine able to straddle opposing worlds: Slovakia under Stalin, and the freedom of Roma life...This is a densely impressionistic narrative and the writing is compulsive. Zoli rightly dominates, and her multi-layered character is gripping...ZOLI is an intriguing look at an unknown history and adds great wealth to the emerging literature of Romany culture in the 20th century. (Julia Pascal INDEPENDENT (9.10.06))

Colum McCann is an artist, not just a story teller - a poet...A must read. (IRISH WORLD (14.10.06))

[In ZOLI] McCann powerfully fictionalises the dramatic life of Slovakian Gypsy poet Papsuza. (SAGA (November 2006))

Book Description

A major new novel about a gypsy woman exiled for betraying her people, from the prize-winning author of DANCER

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Mar. 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Things in life have no real beginning, though our stories about them always do," says Zoli Novotna as she recounts her days growing up as a Gypsy in Slovakia in the 1930's. When fascist brutes murder her family and her grandfather ends up bringing her up, author Colum McCann captures Zoli's sense of tradition and nomadic life as she travels with her clan in their ornate caravans all over the countryside, wearing the ritual of gold coins in their hair.

Purposely keeping some of the older customs alive, with their modesty laws, whispered names, and their runic signs, the gypsies make a living for themselves across the land, every week a new place, existing almost entirely for music. Especially Zoli who finds consolation and pleasure in singing their songs that shift, and roll and change.

Zoli seems to warm to her circumstances, her childhood indeed happy for the most part. Yet the gypsies had been suffering at the foot of the fascists, seen by them no more than wild animals, even by the Hlinkas who were just like the Gestapo. Zoli and her group try to settle as far away from them as much as possible and keep to themselves.

Zoli grows older and becomes a woman and meets the Slovak poet, Martin Stransky, who takes her on as his muse and promotes her singing and also convinces her to write her songs down, she indeed becomes something of a superstar. Also paralleling her rise to stardom is the story of the young Stephen Swann who has come to Czechoslovakia, fired up by the thought of revolution as he works as a translator for Stransky.

Zoli in the blossom of youth when she meets Swann, and the two begin an affair, both sustained by the sense they are "stepping back into what we all once believed: revolution, equality, and poetry.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Didi on 19 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
Great book- inspired me to read his other novels, but this one is the best.
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on 2 Feb. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Using the true story of the Gypsy poet Papusza, Colum McCann tells the story of Zoli Novotna, a Romani, a poet, a singer and a Communist. Her family was drowned by Facist guards and her grandfather was forced to flee and join a group of travelling musicians. After the Second World War she became a member of a group of Communist intellectuals, among them Stephen Swann, a young English journalist who is partly the narrator of the novel. Then the Czech Communist party decided to use Zoli - by then quite famous - as a symbol figure for resettlement and political propaganda. She tried to resist but soon realised that not even her poetical works could prevent a judgement which ultimately led her to misery.

One wonders whether such a character is worth a novel of some 260 pages. However what makes the book worth reading is the fact that it is very well researched from a social and political point of view and readers interested in the history of Central Europe - Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria - from the 1930s till the Velvet Revolution in Prague will find it quite interesting.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 63 reviews
105 of 110 people found the following review helpful
McCann has risked everything, and delivered a triumph. 15 Sept. 2006
By Terry Cooper - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Colum McCann has done something extraordinary in the pages of "Zoli".

He has taken a risk - with this book, with his career, with his literary reputation. This book is a complete departure from his previous works. Those looking for the stylistic frenzy of "Dancer" will be frustrated. Those anticipating the gritty texture of "This Side of Brightness" will be disappointed. Readers seeking a work representative of the "authentic Irish" genre need look elsewhere.

Instead, McCann has created a stunning work that sets up a resonance between heart and mind that sustains until the very last word. "Zoli" is a world filled with music alien and remote - yet ultimately as familiar as a mother's lullaby.

I finished the book at 3 a.m., long after intimations of the coming day's responsibilities and dry, weary eyes had signaled for a stop. Yet I could not stop, for it seemed inevitable that after so much brilliance, the final pages were drawing down to a flawed, incomplete coda. I grew angry at McCann. For 200 hundred pages, he had created a rare beauty out of the interplay between consuming darkness and transforming brightness - yet it seemed inevitable that the book's coda would be pallid, incomplete, and drained of energy.

Yet, at 3 a.m., I found myself stunned, then amazed, and finally exhilarant.

In one short, simple sentence, McCann provided a miraculous note that transformed the book into a meditation on how each of us can find simple grace and transforming redemption through the expression of our heart's unique song.

Buy this book. Set aside any expectations you might have had from his previous works. Silence the voices of shallow charlatans posing as critics. Open the book. From the first page, listen carefully. Listen to your own voice as you walk in the trail left by Zoli's worn and bloody feet. Above all, keep faith until the very end. If you do so, you will find yourself where I was at the end of that long night - torn between the anguished weeping and joyous exultations experienced when, after completing a long journey seeking a distant shore, you arrive only to find yourself on the familiar shore of home.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
"I still call myself black, even though I have rolled around in flour." 19 Feb. 2007
By Mary Whipple - Published on
Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) When Zoli Novotna makes this statement as an old woman, she is referring to the "blackness" of her gypsy heritage, which she has tried to preserve despite the fact that she has lived most of her life outside the caravans where she lived as a child. Using the life of the gypsy poet Papusza as his inspiration for the character of Zoli, author Colum McCann recreates the heart-rending conflicts Zoli faces between her desire to learn and to read, and her culture, which prohibits reading and schooling for women. Zoli, an instinctive poet, dedicates herself to preserving ancient gypsy songs and gypsy history, fearing that the changing political landscapes under which her people must live in Europe will lead to the loss of their culture as they are forced to assimilate.

The novel opens in 2003, with the arrival of a journalist in Bratislava looking for Zoli, and it shifts back and forth in time and point of view. Czechoslovakia from the 1930s to 1949 is described from Zoli's point of view, the old ways described fully and the depredations of the Nazis and the war crimes committed against the gypsies during World War II depicted in horrifying detail. Zoli's personal life, including her marriage at sixteen, her resilience during the war, her interest in developing her poetry further, and her determination to record traditional songs bring her story to life.

A second, parallel narrative traces the story of Stephen Swann, a British subject who is half Czech, from 1930 to 1959. He has come to Czechoslovakia to translate for a literary journal and works with the Communist writer Martin Stransky--and ultimately Zoli. Though Swann admits early in the book that he has betrayed her, it is Zoli who ultimately details what he has done to change her life forever. Gradually, the novel is brought up to the present day in Italy and Paris as Zoli tells her story to her westernized daughter so that her daughter will understand her roots.

McCann is a stunningly descriptive writer who easily captures the atmosphere and drama of the times and the bitter conflicts with which Zoli must deal as she straddles two separate worlds. His writing is often harsh and dark--certainly not lyrical in the traditional sense, though it is vividly descriptive. His opening scene in 2003, describing the "sh!tscape" along the river in Bratislava, establishes the naturalistic tone which continues throughout the novel. Though it is sometimes difficult to identify with a character and a culture which reject even the most basic physical comforts offered by modern society, McCann elicits empathy for Zoli and her people in this dramatic and powerful novel. n Mary Whipple
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
So good I bought two copies. As the adoptive parent of a Romani child... 15 Feb. 2007
By Kcorn - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be both riveting and accurate and it got rave reviews from both traditional book review publications as well as Romani archival centers, which indicates it got a "stamp of approval" from people who are Romani and from those who are simply curious about their traditions and culture.

Although the story of a Roma (also called Gypsies by some) who is struggling to survive during World War II and beyond, is totally engaging on its own, revealing much about Romani culture and traditions, what I found particularly compelling was the contrast between the language and viewpoint of Zoli as it contrasted with the "outsiders" (everyone who was not Roma).

At times, the author's use of words and language was so beautiful it brought me to tears, as when he had Zoli speak of using "tears and sugar" to convince people that what she was saying was true. "They will lick the tears and sugar and make of it a paste called sympathy" she goes on to say (this is my memory of that sentence, may not be word for word accurate).

Sections like this make the book a standout. I do want to add that we adopted a Romani child and so I have read quite a bit of both fiction and nonfiction books in an attempt to understand his background, cultural traditons, etc. This book is among the best of the best! I bought two copies because I can not bear to part with my own copy but I feel compelled to share this book with others.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Powerful Story Beautifully Told 17 July 2008
By Parrott - Published on
Format: Paperback
Colum McCann takes literary chances with this story of a Gypsy poet set in the shifting borders and politics of Eastern Europe. For this, the reader is rewarded greatly. Few male writers have captured the female voice as strongly, as realistically as McCann has with Zoli Novotna's; this is especially apparent when he shifts to first-person narrative. Besides presenting a complex, conflicted protagonist (informed and supported by the other well-drawn characters), the writer uses a relatively little known ethnic group as the focal theme. While most readers presumably know little of Gypsy culture, and their interest is eclipsed by more newsworthy happenings in the world, what we think about Gypsies is shaped by negative stereotypes. They are possibly the most reviled people in history. In "Zoli," without cloaking the characters' moral flaws, the full humanity that has long been denied them is revealed. Added to the realistically rendered people, including Stephen Swann, Zoli's erstwhile editor and lover, is the adroit movement between time and place, starting in 2003 Slovakia. Memories and conversations are not linear in real life, so why expect them to be in a story? History is about renaming (people and places) and winding back before re-facing forward. It's a risky writing technique that can confuse readers; but, it works here. The rich prose describes a genius in her own right, who wraps, perhaps even imprisons herself in the mystery of her heritage, unable to escape it, and unwilling to deny it. McCann knows how to end a story with just enough left unsaid to leave open possibiliites for the aged, still-fierce Gypsy woman.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Curiously distant, with a fairy tale ending 2 May 2007
By Rita Risser - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a person of Romani heritage, I read this hoping to learn more about Papusza and the Rom culture and history in general. The voice of the author, even when in first person as Zoli, seems flat and curiously distant from the subject. Events are described as if through a telescope - we see Zoli's hunger and humiliation but don't feel it. Since reading this I've read more about Papusza. The way this book ends is a nice fairy tale but has nothing to do with her life.

The book, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey has more feeling, more truth, more spirit, and more life than this one.
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