Published by Knopt ∣ Knopf Doubleday on 1/26/16
Genres: Young Adult, Historical
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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.
I don’t know how to review this book. I still don’t know if any of it is real. Anna and the Swallow Man is a magical, striking tale about a man and a girl who live on the outskirts of war. Their pilgrimage takes them across thousands of miles, as they meet interesting characters and dodge dangerous ones. The writing is superb; it’s lyrical, enchanting, and oftentimes mesmerizing. This story is a spell of magic, every page filled with great meaning and thoughtful insights into humanity. I highlighted almost all of it. Upon closing this book my mind was filled with words, thoughts, and feelings that don’t make much sense, but they’re unforgettable.
Anna and the Swallow Man is told in a third person narrative and feels almost like a fairytale. The WWll setting is real and harrowing, but the scenes with Anna and her Swallow Man have an almost mystical feel to it. This saga, their odyssey, is mythical and alluring. The writing is wonderful, truly wonderful, but I can’t reconcile the style with the category. This is a children’s book, young adult, but the writing is very sophisticated. I don’t want to insult the precocious young readers of the world, but if I’d read this when I was in the… What grade does this say it’s for? Oh, yeah. Gr 8 up. If I’d read this in the 8th grade, I would have had a hard time understanding its message. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be read.
This is a coming-of-age story; it’s about the loss of innocence, which is lost because of age, and because of circumstances. Anna is a bright light in a setting that is ominous and devastating. When she meets the Swallow Man she’s lost the one person who tethers her to the world, and she latches onto him like a duckling imprinting. She learns a lot from him about survival, about life, truths, and reality. I couldn’t look away as they trekked across Europe on a mission to avoid danger. The characters are immensely memorable, particularly the Swallow Man, since he’s pretty ambiguous, his character and past questionable. This isn’t a particularly dark read, considering the backdrop, but there’s an undeniable tension throughout, as the stakes get higher.
I truly enjoyed reading this profoundly beautiful novel. Though, I’m still grappling with the ending. It’s not a clean ending, and I still haven’t decided how to interpret it. I’ve read and reread it, and I think on it even though it’s been weeks since I finished it. Like I said, it’s unforgettable. This novel should get a lot of attention; it’s brilliant and Gavriel Savit is beyond talented. I recommend you read it, because it’s a classic in the making.