Author: Gavriel Savit
Released: January 27th 2016
Publisher: Knopf BfYR
Length: 240 pages
Source: Publisher for review
The Book Depository
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.
Gavriel Savit’s literary debut is one of those rare, gorgeous little gems that leave you completely in awe of the author’s talent. Savit is incredibly skillful with words, a true artist fully aware of the importance of every single sentence. Each one is a small work of art, poetic and beautiful in its simplicity.
The best thing about Anna and the Swallow Man is that it’s told entirely from a child’s perspective, a world seen through a seven-year-old’s eyes. It is a bleak, desperate world; the war is slowly brewing and people are disappearing left and right, including Anna’s father, who is an academic. Anna is left in the care of the town’s doctor, her father’s acquaintance, likely because her father thought that she would be most safe in the hands of a German. But the good doctor abandons Anna that very afternoon, leaving her to fend for herself on the streets of Krakow in 1939.
Swallow Man is a nameless wanderer, a man with the ability to adapt and survive at the worst of times. He takes Anna with him like it’s the most natural thing to do, but he never becomes one of those empty, unrealistic characters. He is, in fact, very complex, and as the story progresses and we learn more about him, we realize that he’s not always very likeable or pure-hearted. He too has many issues to work through on his journey with Anna.
The war plays a big part in this book, but solely as the motivator. It’s constantly in the background, something to run from and something to adapt to, but it never quite touches our Anna. It’s almost like yet another secondary character, constantly present, but never overwhelming. Overall, theirs is an emotional journey that brings trial after trial and story after sad story, all seen through the eyes of a child, but interpreted through those of an adult. What a wonderful, wondrous thing Savit has done by showing us something for what it was, but through a lens that makes it look softer and so much different.
Anna and the Swallow Man is a book that will leave you breathless and in complete wonderment. The quality of this work is at the highest level, and its soul is brilliant and simply too gorgeous for words. It may be Savit’s first literary work, but it is a testament to his tremendous talent and a promise of more delightful books to come.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.