Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Zoli by Colum McCann

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and latest release, The Silent Kookaburra.

What we thought: I wondered how an Irish, male writer could conceive to portray a Romani woman from Czechoslovakia in 1930. Yet Colum McCann’s Zoli is a rich, intricately-researched tale of Romani life, racism, love, exile, belonging, and human endurance and survival. In short, a literary masterpiece.

When Zoli’s parents and other members of her Romani caravan are murdered by the Hlinka guards in fascist Czechoslovakia, she and her grandfather flee, and join another caravan. Even though their culture bans literacy, Zoli’s grandfather sends her to school, and Zoli begins not only to sing the old Roma songs, but to compose her own. “It was still a secret, my writing. I pretended to most that I could not read, but, I thought, then, surely it could do no harm? I said to myself that writing was no more nor less than song. My pencil was busy and almost down to a nubbin.”

However, as post-war Czechoslovakia goes from fascist to communist control, the long-persecuted Gypsies, along with Zoli’s song-poems, become useful to the revolution. And Zoli’s safety is in great danger.

While Colum McCann’s lyrical, prose-like style is haunting, harrowing and beautiful, at times I had some difficulty understanding the cold, hard political facts. Then I stopped trying to understand every factual detail and just sat back and drank in this gripping story. And, in the end, I did understand. The author is so talented that his message of how the Romani people suffered comes through crystal clear.

I greatly enjoyed this novel for the author’s characterization of Zoli –– portrait of the life of a poet, her song-poems as the voice of her people. I loved this peek into Slovakian “Gypsy” culture. Spanning the twentieth century, across Europe, this is a unique tale that evokes the life of a community rarely portrayed so vibrantly in literature.

You’ll like this if you enjoy: Sensuous, literary historical fiction.

Avoid if you don’t like:
Racism, holocaust stories.

Ideal accompaniments:
Potato soup and roasted ribs, eaten whilst listening to Zoli’s song-poems.

Genre: Literary Historical Fiction.

Available on Amazon

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