I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on January 26th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, WWII
Source: the Publisher
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A stunning, literary, and wholly original debut novel set in Poland during the Second World War perfect for readers of The Book Thief.
Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.
And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.
The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.
Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.
Destined to become a classic, Gavriel Savit’s stunning debut reveals life’s hardest lessons while celebrating its miraculous possibilities.
‘There is no labyrinth as treacherous as that with neither paths nor walls.’
When seven-year-old Anna is placed in the company of a neighbor while her father attends to some business, she never thought that would be the last she would see of him. The year is 1939 during the very beginning of World War II and the Germans are beginning their round up of scholars and Anna’s father is a professor at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Unsure what to do, Anna turns to a mysterious stranger she names Swallow Man after he displays his proficiency with languages including the ability to speak to birds. Intrigued by this man, Anna begins to follow him and the two stay together, walking across Poland, for many years.
“A riverbank goes wherever the riverbank does. […] I’ll be the riverbank and you be the river.”
During this duo’s travels, the Swallow Man teaches Anna many lessons, cultivating her ability to survive with or without him. The two that bear repeating most: “To be found is to be gone forever,” and “One can’t be found as long as one keeps moving.” And keep hidden and moving they do. Within this short novel, years pass and it becomes more and more difficult to continue to survive in a world that has transformed around them, blanketing them in war. Throughout their time together, the Swallow Man persists in fascinating Anna with his perpetual crypticness and continues to keep the reader curious about the circumstances which brought him to this point.
‘It was very difficult for her to take her attention away from the thin man, even for a moment. Somewhere, tickling the back of her brain, she felt a certainty that if she wasn’t constantly watching this fellow, she would miss whole miracles, whole wonders – things that he let fall incidentally off himself as other men might shed dandruff.’
There was something supremely enchanting about this well-written story. It combined the heartrending historical aspects of The Book Thief with the magical realism of The Snow Child. Unfortunately, Savit built up a mesmerizing tale of survival only to lose steam and fizzle out at the end. The hazy inscrutability that is cast over this story leads to the magical feeling of mysteriousness but by the end, I was expecting that haze to clear and it never did. View Spoiler »There was one particular moment where the haze somewhat cleared and the magic dispelled: when Anna, in an attempt to obtain the medicine the Swallow Man required, agreed to remove her clothes for the pharmacist since she didn’t have any money. He didn’t physically assault her but just the act of being naked for the first time in front of a stranger was a horrifying experience for Anna and a horrible experience to have to read about. It left a terrible taste in my mouth about the whole thing and felt like a poorly placed piece attempting to shock the reader when the story has been nothing but demure up until that point. « Hide Spoiler