“Because,” said the swallow man. “A friend is not someone to whom you give the things you need when the world is at war. A friend is someone to whom you give the things that you need when the world is at peace.” – Gavriel Savit
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Genre: Children’s lit, historical fiction
Published by Ember (Penguin Random House), 2016
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this one.
Reviewed by Indiana
Anna and the Swallow Man is a unique mix of historical fiction and fairy tale.
At the start, an Aryan girl (named Anna) is left with a neighbor while her father goes to a conference for higher education. He’s a professor and speaks many languages, many of which he’s taught Anna how to speak as well. But he is taken into custody, leaving Anna alone. She wanders the streets, trying to find a place to hide away until her father comes back.
That’s when she meets the Swallow Man.
He’s a mysterious figure: spindly and mercurial in attitude. But he takes on Anna and decides to protect her. Together, they journey throughout Poland, eventually reaching Soviet Russia, becoming masters of disguise and survival.
Even though they’re not on the front lines of the war that’s broken out, they encounter plenty of hardship and danger. They eventually have to forage through the pockets of dead soldiers for food, among other awful scenes. The Swallow Man becomes unhinged when they can’t get his medication — jabbering on and saying nonsensical things, insulting Anna and then forgetting about it — and Anna must take charge, leading her to make more than a few terrible choices.
There were a few things that I found a bit strange about this book. It seemed to me that Anna for the most part forgets about her father, even though it was clear in the first chapter that the two were very close. I understand that the Swallow Man took her father’s place, but it was a bit strange to not even have a line or two where she’s wondering about her father and his well being. If her father was taken from her when she was about seven years old, then she had plenty of time to get to know and love him. Little kids don’t forget their parents that easily.
There was a sexual scene that I also thought was a little strange (and unnecessary considering the age group that the book was intended for). But because this is supposed to be a spoiler free review, I’ll just leave it at that.
However, I do have to mention that the ending felt like the most rushed conclusion I’ve ever read. It was like the author’s editor was standing behind the author and yelling “Wrap it up, wrap it up! You’re done!” I don’t feel like even half things I wanted answered were ever really answered.
If I had read this book thinking it was going to be a character study of Anna, rather than trying to piece together all the mysterious parts of the Swallow Man or what happened to Anna’s father or the other characters that come along, I would have liked it more.