Review: Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan

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.

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

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.


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