From Publishers Weekly
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 Stránský, 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.)
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*Starred 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 WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved