Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan
Three intertwining voices span the twentieth
century to tell the unknown story of the Jews in Ireland. A heartbreaking
portrait of what it means to belong, and how storytelling can redeem us all.
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.
With Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan, Ruth Gilligan strikes out into ambitious literary territory. Gilligan weaves history into the present moment with assurance and style. Reminiscent of Tea Obreht, Nicole Krauss, and Maggie O’Farrell, Gilligan captures the pulse of one of Ireland’s untold stories, and asks us to consider the age-old dictum that the past is not dead, it is not even past. A wonderful new novel from a writer to look out for.
In a boldly ambitious novel of family and belonging, Gilligan chronicles the history of Jewish immigrants in Ireland by weaving together three interconnected stories spanning more than a century. . . All three stories—more intertwined than any of the participants know—are gripping, nuanced, and clever, occupying a rich and hazy space between realism and metaphor.
—Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW
A stellar U.S. debut . . . Gilligan weaves a mesmerizing blend of plot and character while exploring themes of assimilation and displacement, suggesting what binds us all is storytelling.
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
Reading Ruth Gilligan’s Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan, I thought of Colum McCann’s Zoli—from which the book fittingly takes its epigraph—and of Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love; like those novels, it’s a rich and layered story of the complications, the mistakes, and the heartbreaks of which a human life is made. But I thought mostly about Gilligan’s characters—Ruth, Shem, and Aisling—and of the fascinating untold story—the story of Jews in twentieth-century Ireland–given vivid expression by their interweaving narratives. I haven’t read anything like it, and I was delighted to meet with their voices: voices that are so real—sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, sometimes devastated—and that linger in the little streets imagined by the novel long after the story has been told.”
—Belinda McKeon, author of TENDER
The most famous literary Irishman of all time was a Jew, yet the stories of his community have been seldom told. Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan blooms in that silence, with grace, confidence, and vividness. I loved this beautifully written and elegantly managed novel and was sorry when it ended.
—Joseph O’Connor, author of THE THRILL OF IT ALL