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3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,494 Ratings  ·  349 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 f
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Random House (first published September 1st 2001)
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Feb 20, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it
Recommended to Michael by: richard
I enjoyed this a lot for its window on Romany (“Gypsy”) culture in Slovakia from the 30’s to the 50’s and its portrait of the life of a fictional poet trying to put a voice to her people. “A” for the effort by an American author in trying to portray such a girl and woman from a first person perspective, but “B” for not quite succeeding in making her come alive for me. Maybe that’s inevitable for such an “alien” and closed off culture, so I still recommend the book for taking me the distance.

While I read this book I grappled with my lack of understanding. This is a book of historical fiction; I could not make up my mind if I wanted to learn the details about the life of Romani poet Papsuza (1910-1987), on which this book is loosely based, or whether I should just read the book for the delight of falling into the story. Only when I stopped trying to learn the factual details and let myself just plain enjoy the story did I enjoy the book. In the process I did learn very much about the ...more
Jan 30, 2016 Irene rated it really liked it
This is the story of Zoli, a Romany woman of the 20th century. Hunted by the Fascists and Nazis, robbed of culture by the Communists and liberal European intellectuals, persecuted, despised, displaced, pitied, studied, Zoli’s story is the story of the Roma people. But, Zoli is also a gifted poet and singer who tries to exist in both worlds, Roma and European and can find a home in neither. The voice of Zoli is magnificently simple, broken yet full of dignity, intimate and unknowable. I loved thi ...more
Richard Derus
Nov 14, 2011 Richard Derus rated it really liked it
What a daring idea...trace the life of a Roma poetess from early life under fascist rule in the dying democracy of Czechoslovakia to dying years in the utterly different but equally repressive "Free World" that doesn't like her unrepentant her own voice.

McCann's up to the task. It's a very well-built book, and Zoli (a boy's name in her culture, given by her grandfather to help protect her) is a fully realized person. She lives an exciting life. She writes amazing poetry (so we're
Dec 18, 2007 Gwenn rated it really liked it
a quote, to live by:wash your dress in running water. dry it on the southern side of a rock. let them have four guesses and make them all wrong. take a fistful of snow in the summer heat. cook haluski in hot sweet butter. drink cold milk to clean your insides. be careful when you wake: breathing lets them know how asleep you are. don't hang your coat from a hook in the door. ignore curfew. remember weather by the voice of the wheel. do not become the fool they need you to become. change your nam ...more
Martina Keller
Nov 21, 2011 Martina Keller rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with an interest in Eastern Europe
Shelves: german-related
I loved this book. I started reading it on the airplane journey home from Vienna after a long weekend (and a previous novel by Josef Roth) immersed in the Hapsburg empire. It felt very appropriate. The book creates a rich atmosphere of the nomadic lifestyle of gypsies during and after World War II in the areas of what once was the Austro-Hungarian empire. The book also takes place in part during the transition years of communism in what is today Slovakia. I learned much about the Romani lifestyl ...more
May 07, 2011 Kalen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-reads
Colum McCann is a magician with words and while I didn't like Zoli as much as I liked Dancer and Let the Great World Spin, I still found myself mesmerized by Zoli and her world. The research that must have gone in to this for an Irishman to recreate the world of a Gypsy in eastern Europe during the middle part of the last century is incomprehensible to me.

The book bogged down a bit somewhere in the middle, but the last quarter or so was so strong. I've got two more novels of his left to read be
May 14, 2012 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
McCann, a novelist so good that both Ireland and America claim him as their own, is the author most recently of Let the Great World Spin. Zoli is McCann’s sixth work of fiction and the one that immediately preceded Let the Great World Spin. What the two novels have in common, as does This Side of Brightness, McCann’s second novel, which are the three I’ve read so far, are an historical setting, a collage of narrative voices, a recurring theme of multi-cultural migrant peoples, and a strong sense ...more
Jan 14, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, library, roma
Couldn't put this one down. Fascinating story of the Roma [gypsies] encapsulated through the story of a Roma woman, Zoli, with a gift for song and poetry. The story is very loosely based on that of Papusza, a famous Roma singer and poet.

The story begins in 1930s Czechoslovakia where Zoli's family are drowned by the fascists' driving them onto ice, which then breaks beneath their weight.
Zoli and her grandfather escape and find refuge with another kumpanija--musicians all.
The horrible WWII year
Perhaps one day I'll finish this book--if I somehow stop having access to other books, am holed up in my house, and have an ample supply of happiness and comfort to get me through the last tiny bit I have left. I'm perhaps one chapter from the end, but the thing got so unimaginably depressing in the last half that I think I'm finally making the decision to call it quits. Reading it has become like slogging through a field with no foliage except densely packed stinging nettles. It's painful and t ...more
Oct 11, 2011 Tony rated it liked it
Shelves: irish
Colum McCann, a very gifted writer, must have sought out or stumbled upon the story of a Romani (Gypsy) woman who, against convention, learns to read and write and sings her own poems to wide acclaim. McCann turns this into a novel, good enough despite the feel that it came from library research; such is his talent.

A book will be more than worth the effort, however, if the author: a) makes you think about or see a thing in a way you never saw it before; and b) says something so profound, clever
Tom Mayer
Jun 27, 2007 Tom Mayer rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who like fiction about gypsies
I had heard my roommate talk about Papusza, the Gypsy poet whom inspired this novel, after he returned from a trip to the Balkans last summer. Something or other brought the novel back to my attention and I ordered a copy from Amazon. After about two weeks I sat down and read the introduction. I was transfixed -- a man drives into a gypsy village in the present day, plies them with cigarettes, liquor, money, etc., eventually earning their trust, he thinks, so he can interview them. When he asks ...more
Feb 09, 2010 Charlaralotte rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
Continuing on my McCann kick. Found this book an excellent foray into portraying the lives of Slovakian Romani people before, during, and after WWII. Harrowing images of persecution, destruction, and the fickleness of post-war Communism. Loved the main character of Zoli. McCann's writing gave an excellent sense of what her life was like at every stage, and how her fame as a singer was manipulated by the state. Watching her cast first as a great heroine of her people and then as a great betrayer ...more
Nov 17, 2010 Joseph rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Uh-oh. I’m about a hundred pages in, and the only character that did anything for me just bit it. I might come back to this (seeing as how I bought it), but for now I’m enacting the “life’s-too-short-to-forcefeed-yerself-a-book-ya-don’t-like” rule. I had high hopes, too, after “Let The Great World Spin”….
Sandy (WI girl at heart)
Nov 22, 2015 Sandy (WI girl at heart) rated it did not like it
Shelves: 1-didnt-like
Zoli by Colum McCann was down right boring. Stopped reading this book and returned the book to the library.
May 01, 2014 Ladory rated it liked it
This is the first book I have read by Colum McCann. His style took a little getting used to because it's poetic or symbolic to a certain degree. This was the first of anything I have ever read about the Romani or Gypsy culture, so perhaps the writing style was to reflect their viewpoint. It is about a poetess, Zoli. I enjoyed this book. I felt like I was with her on her travels and saw what she saw. Even though a lot of the book discusses scenery, and there is not a lot of action or many charact ...more
What an accessible and interesting read about Slovakia in the 1930s-1950s. We meet Zoli as a young Romany girl travelling with her grandfather in Slovakia before WWII breaks out. We follow her for a while as her life changes. Then we meet other characters how have a profound impact on her life post-war as they put her forward as a poster girl for Socialist Slovakia, which no one realises at the time (only afterwards we can see it's so obvious) was just a dream.

Zoli is put up as the perfect socia
Book Concierge

This novel is loosely based on the life of the Gypsy poet Papusza. Traveling across Europe – from Czechoslovakia to Hungary, Austria, Italy and France – the book focuses on Zoli Novotna, a young woman raised in the Romani tradition. As fascism spreads over 1930s Eastern Europe, the orphaned Zoli and her grandfather flee their home and join a clan of traveling Romani harpists. Despite the potential censure of the traditional clan members, Zoli’s grandfather teachers her to read. Her curiosit
Aug 05, 2010 Zoë rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“There is an old Romani song that says we share little pieces of our heart with people and the further we go along, the less we have for ourselves until there is not enough left to go round and that’s called travelling, and it’s also called death, and since it happens to us all there’s nothing more ordinary than that.”

Zoli is the third book I have read by Irish writer Colum McCann (following Everything In My Country Must and This Side of Brightness) and the one that made me finally understand w
Dec 22, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
Colum McCann finds the world to be a dark, seedy place where nothing good can last. At least, that's what I think he feels after reading or trying to read two of his books. Last year I read Let the Great World Spin, as a part of my effort to read more male authors, and more literary fiction. Reading that review now, I can see that my feelings on McCann's writing are very similar now, having tried unsuccessfully to read his novel Zoli.

Here is what Amazon has to say about the plot of Zoli,

A uniqu
Oct 18, 2011 Cmorice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Il sent le poids qu'il porte sur lui : les deux bouteilles, le bloc-notes, les crayons, les cigarettes, le petit appareil photo et le minuscule magnétophone, planqués dans et sous ses vêtements. Il ajuste sa veste en arrivant au bout de la passerelle, saute au-dessus du dernier trou, atterrit dans la boue à vingt mètres d'une baraque. Il lève les yeux, respire un bon coup, mais ses veines vibrent comme des cordes de piano, le coeur tape dans sa poitrine, il n'aurait jamais dû venir seul. Journa ...more

Really had trouble caring about the characters despite caring deeply for story. The prose is, of course, beautiful given how McCann narrates but something is lost.
I think, perhaps, that it is a really bold move to do lots of research pertaining to fiction. It's wasn't so much that it was fact overload or that McCann was trying to get the backdrop just right. I think at times he was perfectly lost in his story about a gifted gypsy to not burden us with that. However, maybe he was a little too l
Sep 03, 2011 Jaron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two and a half stars.

There are certainly a lot of good things to be said about this book: It's a National Book Award Winner. It's well written, with short, eloquent sentences that were clearly labored over. It's about subject matter -- a wandering, persecuted gypsy poet -- that not a lot of books have mined.

My main problem was that I did not find the story interesting or compelling at all. I was not, at any point, curious about how the story would end, or about what would happen next. I found th
Dec 15, 2013 Kay rated it really liked it
Although I have seen Gypsies, or Romani people in Budapest, in Vienna, in Prague, and in London, I did not know much about their culture or what happened to them as an ethnic group before and after WWII. In McCann manner, he tells the tale of a Gypsy poetess, based on a true-life poetess, and the struggles she faced as she dealt with the modern world. More of a straight forward novel than some of his later ones, the book is written in a mesmerizing manner, and the story is one that will instantl ...more
Mar 15, 2016 Holly rated it it was amazing
I really, really loved this book! It is the story of a Romany (gypsy) woman from Slovakia, of her childhood during WWII and the post-war years in a Soviet-bloc country. Her childhood is a mixed bag of the ordinary joys of childhood -- skating on a frozen lake, listening to songs and stories around a campfire -- and unspeakable horrors, first under the facists and later under communist rule. As a proud and headstrong young gypsty woman, Zoli becomes a celebrated Romany poet, a gypsy poster child ...more
Jan 04, 2016 Casey rated it really liked it
I'm on a bit of a Colum McCann binge at the moment, after reading TransAtlantic and reading reviews of his new book - "Thirteen Ways of Looking" but was able to get "Zoli" from the library sooner. It's a tale of gypsies/Roma in the time leading up to WW2 - Zoli losing her entire family except her grandfather in eastern Europe as they went through another 'cleaning out' of gypsy camps. Its a bit of an epic, her grandfather believing that the communists will make things right, holding on to Marx's ...more
Nov 30, 2014 Anita rated it liked it
The central character in this novel is Zoli, a Romani singer and poet, whose life story was inspired by that of Papsuza, the Polish Gypsy Poet. It begins in Czechoslovakia in the 1930's when fascism spreads throughout Europe. Zoli is unique in her Romani community, as she was taught to read and write by her grandfather. Women in her culture were rarely educated, usually being married off at an early age (frequently to men much older than themselves). Initially she achieves fame for singing the a ...more
Jun 01, 2014 MA rated it liked it
With his beautifully written prose, McCann conveys a story about the Romany community in Eastern Europe over a period of decades. Thru Zoli you experience the joy and heartache of being different,assimilation, and the excruciating pain of exile. While I am glad that I read this book, it was disappointing that the characters were not more fully developed. That is where the book fell short for me.
Jun 13, 2014 Laurie rated it it was amazing
This is a raw and unsentimental chronicle of the lives of the Roma people of eastern Europe during the rise of Fascism. Beautifully written literature of a fascinating culture heretofore wholly unknown to me. Hoping the magic of the author's writing carries right the way through to the end.
Danielle Palmieri
Aug 09, 2014 Danielle Palmieri rated it really liked it
Once again, McCann captures the starkingly private and chaotically public worlds of his characters who struggle against a cultural identity, the idea of belonging, and who they are to themsleves. Zolifollows the life of a gypsy woman who, after changing her small world through poetry and her songs, is banished from her home and sent spiralling into an unknown, and at first lonely, despairing, and dirty world. McCann slowly, and almost painstakingly, reveals to us how we unravel, or come apart co ...more
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Colum McCann is the author of two collections of short stories and four novels, including "This Side of Brightness,""Dancer" and “Zoli,” all of which were international best-sellers. His newest novel “Let the Great World Spin” will come out in 2009. His fiction has been published in 26 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Paris Review and other places. He has wri ...more
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“There are no days more full than those we go back to.” 40 likes
“Where happiness was not a possibility, the illusion of it was always more important.” 28 likes
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