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About the Author

Colum McCann is the internationally bestselling author of the novels TransAtlantic, Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as three critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty-five languages. He has received many honors, including the National Book Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres award from the French government, and the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire's "Best and Brightest," and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children, and he is the cofounder of the global nonprofit story exchange organization Narrative 4.


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 Stransk", 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.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Effectively re-creating the atmosphere of Eastern Europe and Gypsy culture from before World War II to the 1950s and later, McCann (This Side of Brightness) retraces the life of a gifted Gypsy poet and singer named Zoli Novotna, based on the real-life Papusza. When security police murder her family, Zoli and her grandfather escape to join another group of Gypsies. Her artistic gifts become obvious as she grows older, and after she survives the Nazi regime, her local renown reaches the ears of a publisher and critic who works with her to formalize her creative output. She also gets mixed up with Czechoslovakia's fledgling Communist government, believing that the Gypsies can secure a better life by cooperating with the authorities, but this leads to brutality and oppression. Banished by the Gypsies and hunted by the Communists, Zoli begins a long and harrowing journey to the West. McCann has an affinity for outcasts and the homeless, and the depiction of Zoli's journey through forests and farmlands toward the Austrian border is forceful. Well written, though at times overly detailed, this haunting novel is recommended for larger fiction collections.-Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Very powerful . . . rich in vivid detail . . . the prose is just plain gorgeous. . . . McCann allows us to enter a world few of us know anything about."--San Francisco Chronicle

"[A] beautifully written [novel] loosely based on the life of the Polish Gypsy poet 'Papusza, ' who lived throughout most of the twentieth century. . . . Beautifully conceived, wonderfully told, the story is proof of an indomitable spirit. The elusive character of Zoli, the brilliang artist, is unforgettable."--The Washington Post Book World "McCann is a writer of large and driving vision. . . . [Zoli] contains passages of stunning lyricism and sharp ironic force."--The New York Times "Rich and sensuous . . . McCann's research and lustrous prose bring Zoli vibrantly alive."--Entertainment Weekly "Astonishing . . . carefully crafted and subtle portrait of one woman's rich and troubled relationship with her people, and with her own Gypsy heart."--The Philadelphia Inquirer "Soaring and stumbling over decades of midcentury Eastern Europe, Zoli is a riveting novel."--Gail Caldwell, Boston Sunday Globe "McCann affirms with Zoli, his fourth novel, that he is a writer with a method and a mission . . . The Roma hardships under the Nazis, their hopes and cruel disillusion under Communism, are grittily conveyed in scenes well researched and often gripping."--Los Angeles Times

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