Challenge criteria: An immigrant story
At the start of the twentieth century, a young girl and her family emigrate from Lithuania in search of a better life in America, only to land on the Emerald Isle instead.
In 1958, a mute Jewish boy locked away in a mental institution outside of Dublin forms an unlikely friendship with a man consumed by the story of the love he lost nearly two decades earlier
And in present-day London, an Irish journalist is forced to confront her conflicting notions of identity and family when her Jewish boyfriend asks her to make a true leap of faith.
These three arcs, which span generations and intertwine in revelatory ways, come together to tell the haunting story of Ireland’s all-but-forgotten Jewish community. Ruth Gilligan’s beautiful and heartbreaking Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan explores the question of just how far we will go to understand who we really are, and to feel at home in the world.
What I liked:
I really loved Ruth’s writing style. I grew up pretty much ingesting the books she wrote as a teenager, and her writing has definitely matured as she has herself. This is a sparkling literary debut.
I loved how important family was in each story, though some were a little more dysfunctional than others. I loved the closeness of Ruth and her father, I wept for how much Shem wanted to protect her mother and I adored the close relationship between Aisling and her brother Seán.
I really loved Shem’s story, and I think I connected more to his and Aisling’s story than I did Ruth’s. Perhaps that’s just because Ruth’s was set over a century ago, whereas the other two were slightly more contemporary. I also connected with Aisling pretty well as both of us have left Ireland for the UK.
What I didn’t like:
I would have rathered if the layout was a little different. I’d have preferred it to go all of Ruth’s story, then all of Shem’s, and finally all of Aisling’s, like a mini anthology. While I did like the layout it had, it did slightly confuse me.
Out of five?:
Four. I’d have liked if all the stories were told in order together, but I really loved the writing and descriptions. I was hooked on the characters too.