Wartime Through a Child’s Eyes, Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

by Amy Courage

ANNAANDTHESWALLOWMAN

 

Anna and the Swallow Man from Random House/Alfred A. Knopf is a book almost too big to write about in a blog post because of the enormous subject matter it seeks to address–the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

Thankfully, author Gavriel Savit chooses a relatable entry point for readers to enter his story–seven-year-old Anna Lania from Krakow. Anna’s father, a university professor, has just been  rounded up by the Germans along with several other intellectuals, never to be seen again.

What happens to Anna over the next few years comprises the bulk of the story in this lyrical parable about innocence, friendship and survival. The Swallow Man enters Anna’s life shortly after her father’s disappearance and begins to fill in some of the gaps of protector, caretaker and teacher.

However, he’s nothing like most fathers. He leads her into the wilderness, showing her how to survive, subsisting on food from strangers, foraging and blending into the countryside. He communicates with birds with a facility that makes both Anna and the reader wonder, “Is he truly human?” He speaks several languages, conversing easily with native Poles, Russians, and Germans as they wind their way through the shifting borders between these countries at war.

I won’t answer Anna’s question about the Swallow Man’s origin and identity here. You’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself, piecing together well-laid clues subtly woven throughout the text.

I do have to mention (for the sake of parent’s awareness) that there are a few occurrences of R-rated language and situations in the story, pushing it more into the Young Adult range, though the protagonist is younger than those in many YA stories.

Thinking about these moments in context, I agree with the author that they serve to move the story forward. These are the moments when the harsh reality of war breaks through Anna’s child-like view of her circumstances, and the Swallow Man’s carefully constructed world begins to unravel. They signal the end of Anna’s innocence.

While exploring a fairly grim subject, Anna and the Swallow Man offers several moments of wonder and beauty. I didn’t mind seeing these events through Anna’s eyes. Savit’s poetic language carries you through some dark terrain, and you feel like you’re seeing the same things like a child would, maybe not fully comprehending, but aware, and open. Though she sees many dark and difficult things, Anna’s hope and will to survive remain undimmed. Her spirit of courage and curiosity make her a heroine that readers will be drawn to and relate with, despite the unfamiliar surroundings of war-torn Europe.

Readers who enjoyed The Book Thief and All the Light We Cannot See, will also be drawn to this story of a child who must face unchildlike realities.

What other books about children who faced adult situations have you read and appreciated? Please share in the comments.

7 comments

  1. I’m definitely putting this on my “to read” list. I’m currently reading ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan and I just “left” Nazi Germany in that book. Another great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We are so fortunate that children here have the opportunity to read this book “despite the unfamiliar surroundings of war-torn Europe,” though immigrants to this country aren’t always so lucky. My husband included. His family’s odyssey began with an invasion of his homeland. By the time he came here he’d lived in three other countries, so English was his fourth language. Thank you for calling attention to this book, which I will read. Sometimes the age designation on a book is open. Just because the protagonist is seven doesn’t mean that this is necessarily for seven-year-olds. And when a child reads something written for someone older, they understand the story on a certain level, then later when they reread it there is more for them to mine. Bottom line: age is a number and this story’s range is not limited to the convention. it sounds like an amazing story. And I love the cover design!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Joyce. It sounds like your husband could write a book of his own. I’d love to hear his story too.

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  3. I’ve just started reading this book, and I am loving it. I do find it hard to believe it is targeted to middle-grade readers. I know few who would be engaged, but certainly older, more sophisticated readers will be. The writing is exquisite.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just read this & loved the fable-like quality of the narrative voice, but I found it to be a bit too detached somehow. I still enjoyed it though–very compelling!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m adding this title to my want-to-read list after reading your insightful review. As you described the opening of this story, I immediately thought of Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, another story in which hope and the will to survive triumph over the bleak horror of military domination.

    Liked by 1 person

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