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Zoliby Colum McCann
Thursday, June 20, 2013 07:30 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
The most mature work yet from National Book Award-winner and incomparable storyteller Colum McCann, TransAtlantic (Random House) is a profound meditation on identity and history in a wide world that grows somehow smaller and more wondrous with each passing year.
Open Zoli to just about any page and you'll find a passage worth reading two or three times. The prose is gorgeous, the story remarkable -- characters practically leap out from the bindings. McCann's novel reminded me why I read fiction: to be transported, completely and without hesitation, into the lives of strangers. It belongs on a shelf alongside Michael Ondaatje's best work.
Synopses & Reviews
A unique love story, a tale of loss, a parable of Europe, this haunting novel is an examination of intimacy and betrayal in a community rarely captured so vibrantly in contemporary literature.
Zoli Novotna, a young woman raised in the traveling Gypsy tradition, is a poet by accident as much as desire. As 1930s fascism spreads over Czechoslovakia, Zoli and her grandfather flee to join a clan of fellow Romani harpists. Sharpened by the world of books, which is often frowned upon in the Romani tradition, Zoli becomes the poster girl for a brave new world. As she shapes the ancient songs to her times, she finds her gift embraced by the Gypsy people and savored by a young English expatriate, Stephen Swann.
But Zoli soon finds that when she falls she cannot fall halfway-neither in love nor in politics. While Zoli's fame and poetic skills deepen, the ruling Communists begin to use her for their own favor. Cast out from her family, Zoli abandons her past to journey to the West, in a novel that spans the 20th century and travels the breadth of Europe.
Colum McCann, acclaimed author of Dancer and This Side of Brightness, has created a sensuous novel about exile, belonging and survival, based loosely on the true story of the Romani poet Papsuza. It spans the twentieth century and travels the breadth of Europe. In the tradition of Steinbeck, Coetzee, and Ondaatje, McCann finds the art inherent in social and political history, while vividly depicting how far one gifted woman must journey to find where she belongs.
"In his bittersweet fourth novel, McCann chronicles the imperiled world of the Slovakian Roma (Gypsies, to their enemies) from World War II through the establishment of the Communist bloc. After the pro-Nazi Hlinkas drown the rest of her family, six-year-old Zoli Novotna escapes with her grandfather to join another camp of Roma, where she discovers a gift for singing. At her grandfather's urging, she also breaks a Romani taboo and learns to read and write. She later becomes involved with poet Martin Strnsk, and her poems, which draw on her Roma heritage, are promoted by Martin as the harbinger of a 'literate proletariat' and a new Gypsy literature. Her growing fame, however, betrays her when the Communist government appropriates her work for its project to assimilate the Roma. Condemned by her own people and, as a Roma, alienated from the Slovaks, Zoli finds her way to a new home. The narrative switches between third- and first-person, though it is strongest when narrated by Zoli. McCann does a marvelous job of portraying a marginalized culture, and his world of caravans, music and family is rich with sensual detail." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"McCann artfully weaves Romani traditions, superstitions and expressions into a vibrant tableau, vividly rendering Zoli's conflicting urges to flee and stay....Mesmerizing." Kirkus Reviews
"Yes, the new year's just beginning, but it's hard to imagine a better novel being published in the months to come than Zoli." John Leonard, Harper's
"McCann's lyrical fourth novel is as rich and sensuous and loamy as freshly turned soil....McCann's research and lustrous prose bring Zoli vibrantly alive. Grade: A-" Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"McCann has an affinity for outcasts and the homeless, and the depiction of Zoli's journey through forests and farmlands toward the Austrian border is forceful." Library Journal
"McCann vividly animates an insular culture different from our own. Full of dense descriptions of everything from the intricately carved caravans to the Gypsy women whose hair is sewn with gold coins, McCann tells a very convincing and very powerful story about the strength of community and the burden of exile." Booklist
"The way Zoli finally gets to Paris, and what she does once she reaches her goal give a lovely sweetness to the coda. And by that time both she and McCann have earned it." Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
Colum McCann is the author of the highly acclaimed Songdogs and Fishing the Sloe-Black River, which received the Hennessey Award for Best First Fiction, Ireland's top literary honor. He lives in New York City.
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