From my Blog: http://msleighmbooks.blogspot.com/2013/09/bookends-bedside-tables-and-gypsys.html
I didn’t realize “who” Colum McCann “was” until after I finished the book and realized his newest book is on the Man Booker Long List for 2013 (TransAtlantic is already on my to-read list, I felt like quite an intellectual for wanting to read it before it was nominated—even though it didn’t make the short list).
Zoli is a book I would have gotten more out of if I hadn’t had a raging head & chest cold.
I much prefer linear books to “fancy” books that jump around the timeline of the story. This one starts in 2003, then jumps back to “1930s-1949”, then jumps forwards and backwards at the same time (that will make sense if you read the book). Not so good for someone who prefers linear books and has a bad cold. It took a *lot* of concentration and checking the dates at the beginning of sections—oh, and each section is written by an entirely different point of view—to try to figure out what was going on where and with whom. That was almost enough to cause a headache.
My mom gave me this book once she had read it, so there had to be some value in it; plus there’s my “have to read at least 50%” rule. One option I had was to put it down and start something easier, but once I got into the rhythm of the 2nd section, I was hooked, and determined to get through it. One section, with the change of POV, almost stopped me; I was confused about the new voice, and both where and when the story was picking up. I slugged through it.
Now, I’m fairly well read, and self-educated on many topics I may have missed in school. However, I learned so much from this book on the 20th Century from the Slovakian/Czechoslovakian perspective, and the Gypsies throughout Europe. (There is a wonderful interview of Mr. McCann by Frank McCourt that speaks to this.)
Zoli is a Czechoslovakian (or whatever they were calling the soil she was standing on at that moment) Gypsy also called Roma. Her character is loosely based on a real 20th century Polish Gypsy Poet (from the Author’s Note p.332). After her family is killed, she is raised by her Grandfather, who upon scrutiny may not be her biological Grandfather; however, he does right by her, and raises her well. This includes, teaching her to read and write, and eventually allowing her to go to school with non-Roma children, which is pretty close to Taboo for the Gypsies (there are many taboos). She is a singer, and as she becomes political, she starts to make up her own songs, and writing them down—this is the first time Roma poetry has ever been written down, and at just the right moment the Gypsies are in favor with the people, and the Government; readings are done of her poems, she becomes famous. More of her poems are gathered and a book is planned; again the Government shifts and now the Gypsies are to be forcefully relocated, from their wagons and life on the road, into apartment buildings.
The story continues, however I don’t want to give away spoilers. I’ll say this—Zoli is very resourceful.
Each section talks about her from a different point of view, many sections include the back-story of the narrator's life and how that person came to be involved in Zoli’s life.
I appreciate how much I learned from this book, and I hope I will have the opportunity to read it again to get even more out of it.
I give it 5 stars.
Thanks for reading.