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Publisher's Summary

From the National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin, this haunting novel is an examination of intimacy and betrayal in a community rarely captured so vibrantly in contemporary literature.

Named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post and THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

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 has created a sensuous novel about exile, belonging, and survival, based loosely on the true story of the Romani poet Papusza. It spans the 20th 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.

Praise for Zoli

“Very powerful...rich in vivid detail...the prose is just plain gorgeous.... McCann allows us to enter a world few of us know anything about.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“[A] beautifully written [novel] loosely based on the life of the Polish Gypsy poet ‘Papusza,’ who lived throughout most of the twentieth century.... Beautifully conceived, wonderfully told, the story is proof of an indomitable spirit. The elusive character of Zoli, the brilliang artist, is unforgettable.” (The Washington Post Book World)

“McCann is a writer of large and driving vision.... [Zoli] contains passages of stunning lyricism and sharp ironic force.” (The New York Times)

“Rich and sensuous... McCann’s research and lustrous prose bring Zoli vibrantly alive.” (Entertainment Weekly)

©2008 Colum McCann (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Astonishing...carefully crafted and subtle portrait of one woman’s rich and troubled relationship with her people, and with her own Gypsy heart.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Soaring and stumbling over decades of midcentury Eastern Europe, Zoli is a riveting novel.” (Gail Caldwell, Boston Sunday Globe)

“McCann affirms with Zoli, his fourth novel, that he is a writer with a method and a mission... The Roma hardships under the Nazis, their hopes and cruel disillusion under Communism, are grittily conveyed in scenes well researched and often gripping.” (Los Angeles Times)

What listeners say about Zoli

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Surprise!

Following this fictional Romani girl to mother is a trip thru time for you and Zoli.
The novel is remarkable in its depth for an author so far removed and of a different gender.
Reviewers note some parallels to another Romani woman of her time called Papusza and this is accurate however Zoli makes a complete story.

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Not a fan of Kathleen Gati as narrator

Why am I not a fan of Kathleen Gati as a narrator? Because she uses the middle inflect like a tour guide. Rarely does she use a falling inflection we use to end a sentence. It wasn’t monotone, but it sounded like, “Right this way . . .” It just got to be a stream of constant water coming out of a hose. No natural breaks. Colum McCann didn’t suppress his Irish accent for a Slovak accent, or an English one. But I give him a pass because he read well. He also writes a very compelling story with commanding and lyrical writing. He also rendered a strong and memorable character. Nevertheless, the Audible is still worthwhile.

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ENGROSSING!

Full disclosure: I am a huge Colum McCann fan and am predisposed to like his work. That said,
his range is so wide and the worlds he explores so disparate that success is not guaranteed. It
was a thrill to listen to every "page" of ZOLI. For an irish-heritage white male writer to be able to
convey the insides of a Roma woman--and the devastating crunch between devotion to, and
betrayal of, one's own culture--this is a remarkable thing. His novels are not for popular=culture
consumers (who complain--too long; not enough action; hard to follow--but for appreciators of
subtlety, contemplation and depth.