Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Zoli: A Novel by Colum McCann

Zoli:  A Novel by Colum McCann  (2007, 352 pages, 487 KB)

The Irish Quarter

I am slowly reading novels, available as ebooks, by major contemporary Irish writers.  I have previously posted on two short stories by Colum McCann, (Ireland, 1965) both of which I really liked so I knew I wanted to read at least one of his novels. His most famous novel is Let the Great World Spin but I decided to first read his Zoli:   A Novel because I have a long standing, going back at least 15 years, interest in the Roma or as they are popularly called, Gypsies.  Colum first developed his interest in the Roma after reading Bury Me Standing:   The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca just as I did.  After reading that I read a number of books on the Roman including the very important The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies by Guenter Levy detailing the facts behind the death of 250,000 Roma at the hands of the Nazi's.  This is historically ironic in that the Roma actually have a better claim to Aryan blood than the Germans.

This novel is the story of a young woman born among eastern European Roma.  The community is very inward looking and very tradition bound.   The story begins in the early 1930s as Nazism begins to spread eastern Europe.  There was much local and imported hate for the Roma and we see the terrible cruelties of the Germans and their local allies, often crueler than the Germans.   The novel covers a lot of time and a lot of ground as we see her go from a starving refugee living by stealing and prostitution in the 1930s and 40s to being a cult status poet in Paris in 2003.   All of her family but her grandfather were killed by Fascists.  Going against Roma tradition on women, she learns to read and write.   She begins to write poetry and political authorities try to use her as the new voice of the Roma Proletariat.

The story is told in part by Zoli, in part by a man with whom she had a long term relationship and in part by others.  It starts in 2003 and shifts back and forth in time.  There is much to be learned about the culture of the Roma in the book.

This is a complex book, beautifully written with great research behind it.

I look forward to reading more by Colum MCann.

Please share your experience with Colum McCann with us.

As I read in the contemporary Irish novel, who are the not to miss authors, to you?

Mel u


Unknown said...

I loved Let the Great World Spin. It came out of the blue for me, unsolicisted in the mail from the publisher, and took me by surprise.

While I can't say that I read a lot of contemporary Irish authors, I am a fan of Roddy Doyle. His take on contemporary Ireland can be found in the Barrytown Trilogy The Van, The Snapper and The Commitments. All three are wonderful and wonderfully funny. I also adore Colm Toibin, but while Irish he doesn't really write about contemporary Ireland. At least in the books of his that I've read.

JoV said...

I too want to know more about Roma culture. I have seen this book around and Let the world spins who won the National Book Award. Thanks for the review.

valerie sirr said...

I haven't read this one, but I'd recommend his novel'Dancer', particularly for the way he handles perspective to creaate an impression of an enigmatic, unknowable character

Mel u said...

C. B. James-thanks so much for your comment-I will be reading my first Roddy Doyle novel very soon-I have read several Colm Toibin novels and short stories-some of his short works do deal with contemporary Ireland

JoV-thanks as always for your comments-I hope to read Let the Great World Spin soon

valerie sirr-thanks for your recommendation