Written by Colum McCann
Review by Viviane Crystal

“Things in life have no real beginning, though our stories about them always do. Seventy-three years have passed now across my brow. I have often settled by your bed and whispered to you of distant days…” So Zoli Novotna, a Slovakian Roma (gypsies, as they are known to enemies and those ignorant of their unique culture), reminisces about the cycles of her life as little girl, poet-singer, lover, exile, and finally famous poet.

Although a great deal of her story deals with the pro-Nazi Hlinka terrorists and the introduction of the Communist bloc, Zoli’s tale conveys the boldness and inspiration of her people. One of the few Roma to learn to read and write, Zoli begins to put her people’s historical tales to music. Those who hear her sing are mesmerized by her passionate expression, though they little understand the world of caravans, constant movement, and protective nature of her family and friends in the Roma community. Marrying outside of her community and used as a tool to segregate the gypsies, Zoli is exiled from her people and journeys to America in a long, painful journey.

While the story is about Zoli, Colum McCann exquisitely depicts the Roma people in an exotic yet poignantly real way that will fascinate every reader. Laced throughout Zoli’s search for meaning in her poetic gift is an accurate and vivid account of the cause of true art, a people who are willing to suffer and rejoice in the face of the most formidable prejudice and fear. Their independence and ardent love of life is Zoli’s true story, “since by the bones they broke/We can tell new weather.” Zoli is an amazing story you will want to read and cherish.