Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Gypsy's Song


Colum McCann is an author who thoroughly researches his subject matter. In an interview at the end of his novel, “Zoli”, McCann talks about the time he spent in Europe researching, before he wrote the novel. The story,“Zoli”, is loosely based on the life of the Polish Gypsy poet, Papusza.

The story begins in 1930’s when a young Gypsy girl’s family is murdered by fascists. The girl, Zoli, and her grandfather escape and begin a journey to join a caravan of gypsies, who are their relatives. Her grandfather is different from most Gypsy men in the 1930‘s. He teaches Zoli to read and write although these skills are banned for Gypsies, especially for Gypsy women. But Zoli has a gift. She invents stories in her mind and she sings the stories to entertain her Gypsy tribe.

When outsiders recognize Zoli’s gifts, the trouble begins. Zoli’s songs are recorded and subsequently published. The voice of the novel shifts from Zoli, the protagonist, to the Irish-Slovakian journalist, Swann, who Zoli falls in love with, and to a Slovak poet, Stransky. Zoli’s voice is addressed to her daughter and her tale travels with her from Slovakia, to 1930s Czechoslovakia, to Northern Italy, to Paris, Hungary and to England. The story encompasses the history of the Romany people as they travel through Europe, misunderstood and persecuted.

When Zoli finds herself banished from her home and friends, she forges an amazing journey of hardship and triumph. Zoli's story, with Colum McCann’s background research of the Romany people and their amazing history, makes this story [“a fiction based on history”] a wonderful, informative read.

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