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The Wild Swans (1999)

by Peg Kerr

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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239587,749 (3.8)102
Two parallel stories, centuries apart, on people persecuted for their differences. In the present the victim is a homosexual youth, while in the 17th century it is a woman who is accused of being a witch.
  1. 10
    Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran (amberwitch)
    amberwitch: Wild Swans contain a fairy tale retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson story "The Wild Swans". Entwined with this, but only tangentially related, is the coming of age story of a gay youth in New York. This is the aftermath of the wild 70'es described in Dancer from the Dance.… (more)
  2. 00
    Glint by Ann Coburn (infiniteletters)
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Showing 5 of 5
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 about the importance of one's voice. Eliza couldn't speak while she was weaving her brother's coats. Elias had to find his voice. There's the implication that Elias and others in his story are reincarnations of those in Eliza's. Which is at once both a subtle stretch, but also especially poignant when you realize who are connected to who.

Beautiful and heartbreaking. ( )
  wisemetis | Dec 6, 2020 |
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 "what's family". The motivations of the parental units are different, their actions are different, the responses of Eliza and Elias are different, and the outcomes are different. One is severely let down by adopted family; every important member of the other's adopted family stands firm. One succeeds in defeating the evil that oppresses them; the other can only defeat it in spirit. One story is fantasy; the other is mainstream mimetic fiction.

On the other hand, each contains an obvious mistake about an easily checked background detail. (Witches were not burned alive in England; Catholic priests released from their vows retain the power to perform the sacraments.)

I have one additional complaint about Elias' story. There's someone at the beginning who helps him survive his first days on the streets, and tries to teach him survival skills for living in the streets. When Elias gets a chance to get off the streets, he quite rightly jumps at it. From the point of view of that first person to befriend him, though, he must have seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth, in circumstances where his having gotten killed would not be out of the question. When Eliza walks away from the people who know her, some of whom care about her, she has a compelling reason for not attempting any contact with them again, at least until after the end of the story. Elias, though, had some options for at least attempting to get word to his street friend that he didn't die bleeding in an alley, even if he didn't want to make direct contact--a personal ad, for instance. As far as the reader can tell from the text of the story, though, Elias never thinks about that person again, once his luck changes.

But I repeat that these are both good stories, and I enjoyed both of them. Kerr does a good job of making the reader care about each of her protagonists, and the problems that confront them. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
This is one of those AIDS books which was written as if all gay men would get AIDS, all sex is bad and dangerous, and nothing would ever be done about the disease. Since it was published in 1999, long after safe sex campaigns and new drugs were around, the author should have known better. I really disliked this book. ( )
  aulsmith | May 10, 2013 |
The Wild Swans is a retelling of the fairy tale with the same name. It features a very practical "princess" (in this version, an earl's daughter), who is very religious, full of common sense, and a practical hardworker. She ends up being flown to the new world by her brothers, and the tail is a wonderful fleshing out of the original fairy tale. It is a great story, but I found myself initially more compelled by the second story that happened at the same time. At eighteen, a boy is kicked out of his home after his waspish family discovers he's gay. He ends up on the streets of New York City, but is saved by a man who goes on to become his lover. He finds his place in the gay community, but in the early 1980s the gay community suffered its own curse- AIDS. I've never felt connected to the fight against AIDS, but this book brought me that connection in a very powerful way. The two stories connect to one another and play off each other in their alternating chapters, and the character names meet in ways that pull the stories together and suggest reincarnation. It takes a lot of strength to fight a curse, and you are not always the one to find success. ( )
  the1butterfly | Nov 1, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peg Kerrprimary authorall editionscalculated
Palencar, John JudeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Kij Johnson, who teaches me grace.
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Elias lay huddled in a ball under a dirty pink blanket in a corner of an abandoned warehouse, dreaming of swans.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Two parallel stories, centuries apart, on people persecuted for their differences. In the present the victim is a homosexual youth, while in the 17th century it is a woman who is accused of being a witch.

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Hachette Book Group

2 editions of this book were published by Hachette Book Group.

Editions: 0446673668, 0446608475

 

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