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.
It’s 1901, and Ruth Greenberg has accidentally immigrated to Ireland with her family, the Lithuanians having misheard “Cork” for “New York.” Her father, Moshe, joyful and tragic, is a whimsical storyteller, a would-be playwright surviving only on increasingly heartbreaking hope. Turn the page, and it’s 1958, and young Shem Sweeney is in a mental institution, having stopped speaking at his own bar mitzvah, unable to utter a word since. He adores his mother with obsessive intensity, though in his silence, he can communicate with her only through flashcards. Stored away at Montague House, the flashcards are banned; instead, Shem spends his days transcribing the memories of his roommate, Alf—the only other Jew in the place—and dreaming of his mother. The novel skips forward again: it’s 2011, and Aisling Creedon, an Irish journalist living in London, is on her way to celebrate Hanukkah with her Jewish boyfriend Noah’s parents—a fraught occasion in its own right even before he gives her his gift. He's pale as she unwraps it: A Voyage of Discovery—Considering a Judaic Conversion?, by one Rabbi Briscoe, the only one of its kind ever printed in Ireland. The novel cycles through these stories, moving them forward, by days or by years. 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. The novel is not entirely even—some pieces come into focus more clearly than others—but it is wholly original, challenging and tender at once.
Witty and haunting, the book blurs the boundaries between past and present, between who we are and the stories we tell.