Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
|Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: WWII story dealing with the loss of innocence both in terms of coming-of-age and in terms of the horrors of war. Intense, literary and with a flavour of magical realism. We loved this beautiful and heartrending story.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: January 2016|
|Publisher: Bodley Head|
|External links: Author's website|
Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2017: Older Fiction
It's Poland in 1939. And Anna's linguistics professor father is about to be rounded up in the Nazi purge of intellectuals. Knowing this is likely to happen, he leaves her in the care of a friend for the day. When her father doesn't return to collect her, the frightened friend loses his nerve and abandons Anna to a new and dangerous world. Anna is just seven years old and will never see her father again.
By chance, she falls in with the Swallow Man, a mysterious stranger who can command the birds from the sky. Together, they tramp through the forests and fields of Poland, taking care never to reveal their identities and to avoid the German and Russian soldiers wherever possible. But the war is all around them and they won't be able to hide from it forever...
Anna and the Swallow Man is one of those all ages and no age stories. It's intensely literary, told by a genuine wordsmith. It's also very subtle, approaching everything tangentially. Horrors are often shown through hints, rather than graphic descriptions. Flavours of magic realism and folklore tropes run through the narrative. You'll find it on the YA shelves in the bookshop but it isn't a YA novel in the commercial sense. Brave middle-grade readers of open and strong sensibilities could fall in love with Anna and the Swallow Man but it speaks to the grown-ups, too. These are my favourite sorts of stories - the ones for everyone, the ones that speak to child and teenager and adult alike with each taking something different but equally appropriate and meaningful from the reading.
And the language! It's gorgeous! The Swallow Man is the swallow man because Solomon is a dangerous name among the Nazis (who are Wolves in Road, which is the cant of protection the two develop for themselves). When there are no people or towns from whom to scavenge supplies, the two travellers spend weeks eating nothing but Poland - roots, nuts, berries, seeds. The whole thing is a beautiful, beautiful and multi-layered construction of the wonder of language.
Anna and the Swallow Man is a story of the loss of innocence, both in terms of the shattering and apocalyptic ripping away of innocence brought by war and in terms of the universalities of a gradual coming-of-age. Younger readers may identify only with Anna's perspective and understandings, but older teens and adults will appreciate the Swallow Man's motives too. And it's a story of generosity in the worst of times. Of friendship and loyalty and yes, of love despite all the horror. We won't forget how it felt to read it. Ever.
The obvious suggestions for more like this are The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. But you might also want to look at the dangerous The Road of Bones by Anne Fine or the magical The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente as well. We can also recommend When The Guns Fall Silent by James Riordan. Slightly-younger children will enjoy The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero.
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is in the Top Ten Books for Confident Readers 2016.
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