Zoli follows the life of Zoli Novotna, a Romani girl who is raised by her grandfather, Stanislaus, after the rest of their family are killed by Hlinka soldiers. In Czechoslovakia of the 1930s, the Romani people are outcasts, driven away from towns and constantly under threat. Yet despite the tragedy and uncertainty surrounding her, Zoli finds joy in the words of her people’s songs, and soon she is writing her own lyrics. As she grows older, her talent as a singer and poet brings her great fame, but also immense heartbreak.

Spanning the decades of her life and a journey from the countryside of Slovakia to the mountains of Italy and the streets of Paris, Zoli is filled with beautiful prose and unforgettable characters.

“There are things you can see and hear, nowadays, and long after: the way the ditches were dug, and the way the ground trembled, and the way birds don’t fly anymore over Belsen, about what happened to all our Czech brothers, our Polish sisters, our Hungarian cousins, how we in Slovakia were spared, though they beat us and tortured us and jailed us and took our music, how they forced us into workcamps, Hodonin and Lety and Petič, how they placed a hard curfew, and even that curfew had curfews upon it, how they spat at us in the streets. You can hear stories about the badges that were sewn on the sleeves, and the Z that split the length of our people’s arms, the red and white armbands, and the way there were no lean dogs near the camps, the way Zyklon-B turned all the hair of the dead brown, and how the barbed wire flew little flags of skin, the slippers that were made of our hair. You can hear all this and more. What happened to the least of us, happened to us all.”

Colum McCann is a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His books include Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, Thirteen Ways of Looking, and Letters to a Young Writer. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, he now lives in New York.

Published: 2001
Length: 333 pages
Main setting: Bratislava and surrounding countryside, Slovakia
Secondary settings: Austria; South Tyrol, Italy; Paris, France