Review by Booklist Review
Set among the Gypsies in Slovakia after World War II, McCann's new novel follows Zoli, who, at the age of six, must watch her parents die excruciating deaths. Forced by Hlinka guards onto an ice-covered lake at night, they sink and drown as day comes and the ice cracks. With her grandfather, Zoli joins a new group of Romani harpists, learns to read and write, and becomes famous among her people as a singer who celebrates their traditions. She is embraced by an English zealot and a Slovak poet, who record her work and publish it, but the Communist government soon tries to use her as a mouthpiece. When Zoli is shunned by her own community, whose politics are road and grass, she escapes to the mountains of Italy. As he did for Manhattan tunnel workers in This Side of Brightness (1998) and for Rudolf Nureyev in Dancer (2002), 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. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2006 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
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 Stransk", 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. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Effectively re-creating the atmosphere of Eastern Europe and Gypsy culture from before World War II to the 1950s and later, McCann (This Side of Brightness) retraces the life of a gifted Gypsy poet and singer named Zoli Novotna, based on the real-life Papusza. When security police murder her family, Zoli and her grandfather escape to join another group of Gypsies. Her artistic gifts become obvious as she grows older, and after she survives the Nazi regime, her local renown reaches the ears of a publisher and critic who works with her to formalize her creative output. She also gets mixed up with Czechoslovakia's fledgling Communist government, believing that the Gypsies can secure a better life by cooperating with the authorities, but this leads to brutality and oppression. Banished by the Gypsies and hunted by the Communists, Zoli begins a long and harrowing journey to the West. 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. Well written, though at times overly detailed, this haunting novel is recommended for larger fiction collections.-Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
McCann traces the trajectory of a Gypsy poet's exile. Drawing on extensive research and visits to Romani settlements in Slovakia, McCann (Dancer, 2003, etc.) re-imagines the iconic Gypsy poet Papusza in the fictional guise of Zoli, whom we first meet at age six, fleeing with her grandfather, having narrowly escaped a Fascist pogrom in which their family and kumpanija (Gypsy band) died. Although reading and writing is forbidden for a Romani girl, Zoli learns in secret. Soon she is singing songs to her adopted kumpanija. The band survives WWII and is welcomed by the Slovakian Communist regime. At first, it appears that anti-Romani discrimination will end. Zoli is discovered by a poet, Stránský, and his English apprentice and translator, Swann, who edit a literary magazine and labor in a Bratislava printing plant. When they transcribe Zoli's songs into poems and publish a chapbook, Zoli becomes a Socialist poster-poet, a sensation f'ted on national tours. Tightly bound by her Romani roots, Zoli often retreats to her kumpanija's encampment. When Swann follows her, they begin a clandestine affair, complicated by the Romani refusal to accept outsiders, or gad¿e). The regime changes and Str¿k¿ is tortured and shot. The government embarks on a campaign, called the Halt, of forced relocation of Gypsies to high-rise apartments. (To ensure cooperation, all their wagon wheels are burned.) Zoli's popularity among gad¿e has incited distrust among her people. They blame her for the Halt, and administer the ultimate Gypsy punishment: She is declared unclean. The girl is subsequently banished and thereafter shunned by her people. She sneaks into Swann's apartment and, in a gesture of despair and cynicism, steals his meager possessions. McCann artfully weaves Romani traditions, superstitions and expressions into a vibrant tableau, vividly rendering Zoli's conflicting urges to flee and stay. After a tortuous journey, alone, on foot, across three countries, she is smuggled across the Alps into Italy, where she finally reconciles with her harshest persecutor, herself. Mesmerizing. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.