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Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  733 ratings  ·  130 reviews
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 prese ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 24th 2017 by Tin House Books
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Average rating 3.63  · 
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 ·  733 ratings  ·  130 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor
At the turn of the century, when Ruth was eight, her mother, father and older sister emigrated from Lithuania, heading for America and hope of am better life. After a sea journey of many days they arrive, knowing little English, they think they hear the crew yelling New York, but alas they are saying Cork, and instead of America they have arrived in Ireland. In the fifties a young man is institutionalized after he quit speaking at his Bar Mitzvah, and present day a woman's Jewish boyfriend asks ...more
Elyse  Walters
Nov 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Ruth was eight years old. She picked a compass. Her sister Ester was 10, she picked a large Shakespeare book. Their family, from Lithuania, was going to America, and Tateh, their father told the girls they could each take one item - a souvenir from this life to the next.
The year was 1901. Ruth especially was dreaming and imaging New York City, from all the stories she had been told. She couldn't wait to see the skyscrapers, the cabs, the lady in the sky, and peanut vendors on "every single corne
3.5 stars
The vast cultural differences between the landed Irish and the immigrant Jews who come to settle in the country, the issues of acceptance and the grappling with a unique sense of identity are told through the stories of three individuals, in different time periods throughout Ireland's turbulent history in Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan. Ruth Gilligan has created fiction redolent with Gaelic fables, Irish ideals and a plethora of very interesting Irish history.

First on the scene is the Latvian fami
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a feast of wordplay and repeating images that questions family, language, identity, and belonging. Gilligan uses three protagonists (Ruth, Shem, and Aisling) to examine the experience of Jewish communities in Ireland over the last century, and all three stories weave together in surprising and impressive ways. I will say that although this was a really engaging read, it wasn't a page-turner - it offers beautiful language and character portraits, but no narrative momentum. And I thought A ...more
What a beautiful book, and a wonderful change of pace from what other books I've been reading recently. At the beginning, I was slightly confused, not yet able to see how these three separate stories would intertwine and connect: Ruth migrating to Ireland in the early 20th century, Shem, a young Jewish man sent to an asylum for being mute, and, finally, Aisling, an Irish emigrant to modern-day London. The end, however, left me utterly overwhelmed, as Gilligan's overriding plan became clear. Thre ...more
Book Riot Community
Three intertwining stories revolving around the little-known history of the Jewish community in Ireland in the twentieth century. A young girl and her family leave Lithuania for America, but wind up in Ireland instead; a young boy in an institution befriends a man still mourning the loss of his true love two decades later; and an Irish journalist must confront her past when her Jewish boyfriend asks her to take a leap of faith. These heartbreaking, moving tales combine to make a rich novel that ...more
Jennifer Tuck-Ihasz
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book that examines a part of history that has been, for the most part, overlooked. Stunning writing combined with complex, amazing characters join together to make this one of my most-loved books of 2016.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it liked it
I don't like multiple POVs in a novel so much, and maybe this is what prevented me from fully enjoying it. The subject matter is interesting - different perspectives on Irish Jewry from the first refugees arriving there from East Europe to our days. But the author keeps jumping between times and characters. The connections between them are mostly insignificant apart from their being Jewish. Some of the stories are told in the first person, while others from the third, which makes your mind's gea ...more
Vincent Noble
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is such an interesting topic. Jewish immigrants to Ireland and the mix of Jewish and Irish cultures. It also explores the diaspora of the Irish to London. It is told in three separate stories that span a hundred years or so and are so beautifully tied together. Reading this immediately brings to mind the plight of immigrants who are currently trying to find a new home in Europe. My heart goes out to them.
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three stories intertwine in this book, a worthy finale of this reading year.

First, there is the story of Ruth, which spans over the course of several decades. When Ruth is only eight, her family decides to emigrate to America to escape the mounting antisemitism in their homeland, part of the Russian Empire. A ship lands them in Ireland, the whole family believing that they have made it to New York. Not everyone in the family is ready to accept the new reality, but Ruth is determined to make Irel
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan is a story with many layers and one filled with complex characters. The book connects the stories of Jewish immigrants in Ireland from completely different generations.

We meet Ruth, a 10-year old girl who's family arrive in what they think is New York, when in fact the ship docks in Ireland. We see Ruth grow up and make a life for herself, whilst supporting her family. Her story overlaps with Shem, a young Jewish man who has been sent to an asylum by his father for b
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pre-pub
Ruth Gilligan's surprising, complex and haunting novel, Nine Folds to Make a Paper Swan, explores issues of identity and love through the  lives of three  characters living in Ireland at different times, whose lives touch one another's through coincidences that are ultimately revealed. Central to each of the three alternating stories are themes of Jewish culture and teachings and the intersection of Jewish and Irish identity. The story begins in 1901 aboard a ship about to deliver a Lithuanian-J ...more
Aug 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
In return for NetGalley kindly providing me with an advance electronic copy of this book, I'm sharing an open and honest review.

I found this book to be incredibly engaging, unique, and well-written. The main characters are sympathetic, realistic, and I was really sad to leave them behind. My only issue with the book -- and it's a big one -- is that, for me, it was too disjointed. I like when an author forces me to make leaps, fills in blanks as I go along, like bread crumbs strewn through the w
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I saw the author speaking about her books and recent adventures in communication at the Hay Literary festival this year and was taken with her description of the challenge she set herself to write a new novel about a subject that was totally alien to her own world; the Jewish diaspora in Ireland.
Nine Folds... is that novel and I am very pleased I was seduced into buying it.

The action takes place in three different families and over different time frames. Ruth comes with her family, from pogrom-
Paula Kaufman
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Gilligan's wonderful novel didn't grab me from the start, but it didn't take long before I was drawn completely into this telling of three stories that are connected in many ways and in many layers. In addition to the more obvious, yet perhaps too coincidental links, they tell the stories of the monumental choices one makes despite the veracity of their bases; of the role of religion in those choices and in one's life; of relationships, love, friendship, and so much more. Swans, mating for life ...more
Daniel Sevitt
I wish the book had been more focused on the similarities between Irish and Jewish storytelling as the conversion storylines never really rang true to this reader and son of Irish Jews. Told in three time frames that never quite cohere to make a whole book, there was still much to like here.
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I received this books as a giveaway.

I really enjoyed this book! The way each story connected with the others was breathtaking! Each story offered a little piece of a puzzle and once the book ended, the full picture revealed itself. This book was truly inspiring. Each story offered hardships, excitement, and growth for the characters. I would strongly recommend this book to individuals who want to read something with great characters and a great storyline throughout. This book offered a unique l
Anita R
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a very difficult book to get into. I considered stopping it many times. Once the stories merged and tied together, the book became very interesting . It seemed to be three independent stories covering many years. I'm glad I finished it and found out what really happened to the main characters . I learned a lot about the European Jews who found refuge in Ireland and what their lives were like. ...more
Margaret Bamford
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A touching novel about three people of different generations and experiences having unknown links. I enjoyed reading this fascinating story.
Davida Chazan
Okay, so I didn't actually finish reading this book. You see, I really wanted to like this book, because I think that Gillian is a talented writer. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish reading this book. On the plus side, the contemporary parts of this book were very interesting, if not compelling. Aisling's slow discovery of the Jewish world, while fighting the urge to get more committed to it was very nicely done. However, the historical parts put me off most of the time. I didn't understand ...more
Annette Jordan
Aug 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2016, irish
3.5 stars
A thought provoking book that takes three stories in three time periods and manages to link them together in a subtle and believable way.
The book opens with the Greenberg family who are emigrating from Lithuania and mistakenly disembark from their boat in Cork instead of New York in 1901. Instead of the big city and family welcome they were expecting they must make their home among the insular Cork folk.
The second narrative strand is Shem, a young man who stops speaking on the day of
Jul 01, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a slow read for me but I was compelled to finish it, eager to find out how the three different narratives would come together in the end. Ruth is a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant whose family mistakenly disembarks in Cork, Ireland in 1901 thinking it's New York. Shem becomes a mute on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah and is admitted into a Catholic sanatorium in 1950's where he befriends an elderly double-amputee. And, Aisling, an Irish-Catholic living in contemporary London, must decide if she' ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Beautiful, lyrical prose that kept me hooked till the last word was read. And then i felt so angry, for it being the last word and then so many threads left hanging, without closure, without peace.
My favourite character was Ruth and I am still mad not knowing how that arc ends, mad for her to snatch bits and pieces of happiness from ether but nothing to call her own, sad for Alf...sigh.

Lovely writing if I have not said that already. You will not regret picking this up though I feel we are forget
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a truly fantastic novel. Gilligan's writing is spectacular and her storytelling is brilliant. This book had me laughing, crying, and contemplating what makes someone who they are. What makes a life a life? Publisher, Tin House, once again has found an original and captivating writer that I can't wait to read more from.

My favorite part of the novel is how the three lives are woven together and their connection spans generations.
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: good-reads
A unique story that was a very good read. I won it in a contest and I thought it was wonderful.
Blodeuedd Finland
There are 3 POVs in this book. Ruth's family was on their way to America, escaping Lithuania, but ended up in Ireland. She grows up there, makes a life there. I would have wished more of her story, Ireland changing and all that, instead it moved pretty past and we got tidbits here and there.

The second POV was my least fav, a boy in a mental institution, he has stopped talking and well, he just there.

The third POV was my favorite. Ashling loves her boyfriend but he wants to marry a Jewish girl, a
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Several novels I’ve read over the past few months opened with a new literary device: the prologue takes place in contemporary times and features an unnamed character whose story unfolds over the course of the work. Most of the time it’s clear that the person featured is one of two characters and part of the fun is trying to determine that person’s identity. While Ruth Gilligan does use this device in the prologue to her moving and intriguing “Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan” (Tin House Books), it’s ...more
Molly Ferguson
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: irish-lit
This novel is made up of three interlocking stories from three different time periods, all of which have to do with the Jewish community in Ireland. It did take a couple of cycles to get into and start to care about the characters, but once I did I really appreciated the construction of the book. I enjoyed when the stories revealed little synchronies, and the ending was extremely well done.
Meg Wiviott
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A different perspective of Jewish Diaspora -- Ireland. Multiple pov in different historical times that tie together nicely.
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Ruth Gilligan is an Irish novelist and journalist now living in the UK, where she works as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. She has published 5 novels to date, and was the youngest person ever to reach number one on the Irish bestsellers' list. She contributes regular literary reviews to the Times Literary Supplement, LA Review of Books, Guardian and Irish Ind ...more

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