Anna and the Swallow Man
By Gavriel Savit
Published by The Bodley Head
ISBN 978 1 782 30052 6
Gavriel Savit’s debut YA novel is a beautifully written story about war, survival and the power of friendship. It starts in 1939, as Nazi troops slowly tighten their stranglehold of the Polish city of Krakow .
There are many novels about children caught up in the horrors of the second world war; it was a brave move for a first-time author to tell yet another tale of yet another child whose life is turned upside down by conflict. But Savit has a unique story which he tells with style and confidence, and Anna and the Swallow Man is up there with classics like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Silver Sword.
Seven-year-old Anna lives with her father, a professor of languages at the University of Krakow. Even at her young age, she can speak quite a few languages and is confident in the company of her father’s colleagues and friends. But disaster strikes when Anna’s father is called into a meeting by the Gestapo, and that evening he does not come home.
All alone in these troubled times, Anna turns to one of her father’s friends for help. But Herr Doctor Fuchsmann won’t help her, as he is aware that taking in a child whose father has been detained by the Nazis would cause problems for himself. The only thing Anna can do is take to the streets and hope she can find help there.
She meets a mysterious man whom she names the Swallow Man, because he appears to be able to communicate with the few birds left flying around Krakow. With no one else to depend on, Anna tags along as he leaves the dangers of the city for the Polish countryside.
Anna and the Swallow Man are an unlikely pair, but he seems happy enough to look after her in his own, unique way. As the war intensifies, the pair forms a strong bond, wandering through Poland and Russia. Anna places all her trust in the Swallow Man, and he in turn shelters her from the horrific events going on around them.
This book was never going to have a happy ending; in fact, it’s debateable there is an ending at all. When the travels of Anna and the Swallow Man do come to stop, the reader is left with more questions than answers. But as the Swallow Man tells Anna: “Questions are much more valuable than answers”, .
Older readers will enjoy this multi-layered and beautifully written story of two strangers moving through the dark tunnel of war, becoming increasingly dependent on each other in the hopes of surviving.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com.