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The Wild Swans

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  366 ratings  ·  39 reviews
This novel focuses on two outcasts on two journeys in two eras. In 1689 England, Lady Eliza Grey's 11 brothers are turned into swans. Rejected by her father, Eliza is flown to America by her brothers where she has a chance to save them--until she is accused of witchcraft. In the second story, set in 1981 New York, Elias Latham has AIDS, is banished from his father's house, ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published November 1st 2001 by Aspect (first published May 1st 1999)
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3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  366 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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Lis Carey
Feb 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: f-sf, lit-fic
Kerr tells two stories in alternating chapters, the story of Eliza, in the seventeenth century, whose stepmother has enchanted her eleven brothers so that they are swans by day and men only by night, and the story of Elias, in the early eighties in New York, whose parents have kicked him out. They're both interesting, compelling stories, and I enjoyed both them. I don't, though, see the close parallels between them that Kerr says in an afterword motivated her, beyond a rather tenuous theme of "w ...more
Jennifer W
Apr 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: back-and-forth
This book has been on my TBR since I joined goodreads, about 5 years ago. I wasn't sure if I would like it, if it would be too melodramatic or too overdone, but it was wonderful. Elias' and Eliza's stories overlap and are used well to make points about silence and fear. About finding families where you least expect them. Even about loving the people who are eventually going to kill you. I don't really remember the HCA fairy tale of The Wild Swans, but I like the Puritan witchcraft angle of this ...more
Jan 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
I much preferred the modern story of Elias to that of puritan New England Eliza.

Eliza's half of the story just fell a bit flat for me. I just didn't feel I knew her and the people around her as well as I should. The typical fairy tale ending at the end of her part feels forced because of it. I know I certainly wouldn't immediately forgive someone who came minutes from hanging me!

However, what Eliza's story was good at was drawing attention to the bits of Elias's story that were thematically imp
Aug 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
This was a bit of a surprise. I started this book expecting a straightforward retelling of a fairy tale, but it was a bit more than that. While Eliza's tale certainly is what I expected, Elias's story was quite different. I don't want to spoil too much, but suffice it to say that it was more poignant and much deeper than I expected.

All in all, I though this book was really good. I enjoyed the way the different tales were interwoven. Miles apart at first, they slowly moved towards one another. W
Jul 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of fairy tale retellings or magical realism
Like Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, this book uses a fairy tale to discuss serious modern issues, in this case homophobia and living with AIDS. The book is made up of two stories told in alternating chapters: the story of Eliza, which takes place in the 17th century and follows the original Wild Swans fairy tale, and the story of Elias, which takes place in the '80s. When Elias comes out to his parents, he is thrown out on the streets, and ends up contracting AIDS. Although I love the original fairy t ...more
Overall, this book in its entirety didn't touch me.

However, the two stories, told in alternating chapters, did. I enjoyed reading both Eliza's story (based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The wild swans") from the 1600s and Elias' story from the 1980s. The story of the early days of the AIDS epidemic were particularly moving; I am of the age that I was in my 20s-30s during that decade and remember what a death sentence AIDS was to so many of our generation. I remember the fear many heterosexuals h
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am struggling to gauge this book! I was, as usual, desperate to go the impossible and read DEERSKIN by Robin McKinley for the first time again, so I looked at the “if you liked this, you might also like...” section on here and THE WILD SWANS was there. The blurb sounded risky - was she going to write that AIDS is a magical curse? - but the reviews seemed to ok it. And it does what it says! It’s two interlinked stories, of the 17th and 20th centuries, magic and love and gay men and the early AI ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I didn't read the cover blurb very carefully when I picked this one up. I was more captivated by the historical setting and the fairy tale. So - no time travel romance here between gay Elias and Eliza of the bespelled brothers. Elias' story is tragic, and the story of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s needs to be told more, as it devastated a generation of gay men and hemophiliacs. However, it has very little to do with the tale of Eliza and her brothers which is more of a retelling of a classic fa ...more
Oct 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Brittany, Katherine
A good story, and interesting retelling of the Six Swans pieced together with the tale of men who began to die needlessly in the early 1980s of a mysterious disease that, at first, seemed only to strike gay men.

I enjoyed the retelling - there are 11 brothers, and they are disowned by their father as traitors, then cursed to be swans by their stepmother (who is satisfyingly horrid). Eliza is cast out for speaking on their behalf. When she finds her brothers, they strike out for the New World to
Andee Browne
I pulled this book off a library stack on a whim; it was by an author i'd never heard of and i didn't expect much from it; instead i found myself moved almost to tears by the end both by Eliza's familiar (I was a big fan of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales as a kid) yet still compelling story and its counterpart set in somewhat more contemporary times, when a young man exiled from his former life finds family, friends and love within the early 1980s gay subculture of New York, only to conte ...more
What an amazing book! Set in two time periods, England and New England in 1689 Eliza’s stepmother has turned her eleven brothers into swans. In New York City in the early 1980’s, Elias is rescued from living on the street after his parents kick him out of their house for being gay by Sean, a musician and writer. In both time periods the protagonists must build lives for themselves, save their brothers, and themselves. It tells a similar story to the Sevenwaters Trilogy, but that was set in somet ...more
I first read this book in high school. It's now been over two decades. I've re-read it since that first time, but have not in a really long time. I was scared, most likely, with how it will hold up. I shouldn't have worried because I still loved it. Kerr weaves two very different stories together - one a retelling of The Wild Swans fairy tale; the story of a young gay man during the beginning of the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

Both have themes of finding your place in the world and your home. And also
Elizabeth Singleton
Aug 19, 2016 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that could only have emerged out of the 90s as it ran a re-telling of a fairy tale parallel with an exploration of homosexual identity and love during the advent of the AIDS epidemic. Such a strange juxtaposition and yet the interstices it creates are far greater than a fairy tale or a simple chronicle of how gay men moved as the AIDS epidemic bloomed.

The shame of 11 men whose bodies are taken captive by an evil spell each day at sunrise runs alongside the shame of a g
The book follows two separate stories: a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale about the twelve brothers turned into swans and their long-suffering sister and rescuer, and a love story set in the beginning years of the HIV epidemic in America. As other reviewed have written, I bought the book for the fairy tale, finished it for the love story, and was ultimately unsatisfied with the connections between them. The author's attempts to create parallelism in plot elements, names, and ton ...more
Nov 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
one of my favorite books--i've bought copies for friends i thought should read it. two narratives--a retelling of a grim, though i don't recall if it's a grimm, fairy tale parallels a young man's experiences in new york in the early days of the gay community grappling with AIDS. i haven't reread it for a few years, but i recall there being several times when i was crying as read, but being so glad that i did. i think that it may resonate more for me, going to college as AIDS began and losing so ...more
Jun 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Ken Rogers
Shelves: fiction, fairy-tales
A find, a buried treasure, a true beauty of a gem. I simply could not stop reading this book.
Kerr tells two stories side by side. One is a very true retelling of Andersen's fairy tale of the same name -- mostly set in Colonial America (beginning in England). The other is an early 80s "fairy" tale of a young gay man coming out to the world at the beginning of the AIDS discovery. Each story barely overlaps, yet displays subtle similarities that keep you wondering when they will meet each other. Th
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a haunting an evocative beautiful book. I couldn't put it down. It was like reading two separate stories, yet they seemed interwoven. It takes incredible talent to work different plot lines, and different characters into one book and still keep the reader's attention.
I remember well the times she wrote about in the 1980s... We had friends who lived that carefree lifestyle, never realizing until too late the fatal error. Innocence woven into decadence! This book works!

Each story was so rich
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
A retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale parallels the story of a 20th century young man. Both are cast out of their homes and must discover how to stay true to themselves while being persecuted by the people and circumstances around them.

Unfortunately I found this book difficult to get through. I was not able to connect with either of the main characters and found the supporting characters to be flat stereotypes. The pacing was a bit awkward, and the parallel story lines we
Maria Elmvang
I love this book. The two stories are weaved almost seamlessly together, with every other chapter being about Eliza and every other chapter being about Elias. The shifts never seem abrupt or disruptive, as one keeps finding parallels from one story line to the other. Names, places and events occur in both stories - some so subtle that I only notice them on my 3rd read through. It's a poignant and moving book that I'd recommend to anybody.
Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was very different. I cannot say I have ever read anything quite like it. I preferred the modern story myself and was so saddened to know what was going to happen but kept on reading. I could not put this book down. The fairy tale side was quirky but really cannot make up my mind if it worked or not or if it the reason why the book was great.
I floundered a little with the two storyline-structure at the beginning, but by the second half of the book the parallels became clearer and I found the transitions less jarring. I definitely found it an improvement over Kerr's debut; I'll keep an eye out for her next book, in hopes of that trend continuing.
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
It's been a while, but what I do remember about this book (which I think I read twice, once as a teen and once as a young adult) was that while I liked it, I was annoyed that (view spoiler)
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is still a phenomenal book, one of the saddest and most beautiful things I've ever read. The author crafted such a well-written and moving story that even after reading it for the ninth time, I was still moved!
Jan 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
I was excited to read this book but didn't get beyond the first few chapters. I stopped when the young man started selling his body to older men. This book flips between two time periods, an older time and the 80's. I was disappointed because I really like the writing.
Oct 13, 2016 added it
What do you say about a book that ripped your heart from your chest & shattered it into a thousand pieces? Left you ugly sobbing on the floor? How do I give it a rating? Loved it but it nearly killed me...
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
An enthralling book. The simultaneous plots set 300 years apart was a fascinating structure, and the characters were heartfelt and sympathetic. Definitely surprised me, and made me a bit teary-eyed by the end.
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: lgbt, fairy-folk-tale
A strange blend of two stories: the classic fairytale of the brothers turned into swans, and the rise of AIDS in 1980s New York.
Gwen (The Gwendolyn Reading Method)
I liked the story set in modern times, but the fairy tale portion read very stilted. I got 3/4s of the way through :/
The Fairy Godmother
Based on The Wild Swans.
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Peg Kerr was born in a Chicago suburb, moved to Minnesota to attend St. Olaf College, and has stayed in Minnesota ever since.

With $50.00 from her first paycheck, she registered for a science fiction and fantasy writing class. There, she met her husband and wrote the first story she ever sold. In hindsight, this is all quite pleasant consolation for the fact that she was fired from her job the day
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