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Anna and the Swallow Man


Anna and the Swallow Man

I've read my fair share of Holocaust-themed novels, but Gabriel Savit's ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN stands out from the rest with its impressive creativity and inspiring characters. From the opening scene, I was instantly hooked to Anna, a seven-year-old girl whose father is taken by the Gestapo during the Second World War, and the Swallow Man, who takes care of Anna and is one of her only true companions throughout the novel.

I usually don’t enjoy reading magical realism, but ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN was truly an exception; Savit's use of magical realism is intelligent, thought-provoking and extremely well executed. The writing was eloquent and every word seemed to be intricately planned and have a deeper meaning. The story intrigued me to the extent that I was left pondering about it for days on end. 

When Anna meets the Swallow Man towards the start of the novel, she mentions that he resembles her father, as he is tall and gifted with languages. During their conversations, they often switch between Yiddish, French, German and Russian. However, the Swallow Man teaches her a language of his own, "Road".

"Savit's use of magical realism is intelligent, thought-provoking and extremely well executed."

It is both incredibly riveting and tragic to see World War II through the eyes of a young girl. Anna and the Swallow Man must starve and live in terrible conditions to survive. They see mass graves and encounter Germans, and all of the sudden, the book takes a dark turn --- I realized the novel was not simply about Anna and the Swallow Man's endless travels to find a rare bird, but rather escaping the disastrous war and ethnic cleansing happening around them. Reb Hirschl was a constant reminder of the war; Savit consistently describes him as a "Jew" and therefore different than everyone else. 

After reading ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN, I wondered if the Swallow Man was a real man who took Anna under his wing or if Anna created him to deal with the loss of her father. However, I believe that Savit left the novel open-ended on purpose. 

I highly recommend this novel to all readers. I think that everyone has the potential to interpret this novel differently as there is so much background information the reader must figure out for themselves. This book is an absolute 2016 must-read for teens, kids and adults alike!

   --- Reviewed by Rachel D., Teen Board member

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN by Gavriel Savit is a book that wants to be read aloud, to be savored and that cries for a second reading. It is strange and sorrowful, full of menace and thin shreds of hope, written in an absolutely artistic and beautiful style.

In 1939 Kraków, seven-year-old Anna Łania lives with her father, an extroverted and charming linguistics professor who has taught Anna to understand several languages. The German invasion entails a round-up of intellectuals and her father disappears into the Nazi cultural war machine, leaving Anna with a friend of the family. But Herr Doktor Fuchsmann turns her out after just one night and Anna finds herself alone: hungry, scared and locked out of her apartment, unsure who she can trust or turn to.

"ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN is a daring and mesmerizing look at the horrors of World War II as well as a heartbreaking story of a particular, wonderfully created, young girl."

When she catches a soldier’s attention on the street, a tall and authoritative man steps in to distract the soldier, subtly protecting Anna. Like Anna and her father, the man is a polyglot and one who can also assume the accent and tone of those to whom he is speaking. When he asks Anna if she is alright, she releases a torrent of emotions she’d been suppressing. When he calls to a bird who alights on his hand, she begins to believe he is magic. She decides she will follow him.

Anna comes to know the stranger as the Swallow Man but she never learns much about him. He is brilliant and secretive, sometimes cold and sometimes tender. Together, they spend about four years evading both the Germans and the Russians, living outdoors, stealing food and necessities and just trying to survive. The Swallow Man is almost unbelievably adept at survival, but still things are not easy. The winters are long and cold and there are myriad dangers all around them. About halfway through their journeys across the Polish landscape, Anna meets Reb Hirschl, a Jewish clarinet player drunkenly walks out of the ghetto one night. Safety and survival are harder for the trio than it had been for the duo, but the Swallow Man allows Reb Hirschl to join them because it makes Anna happy. Though the death of their new companion is hardly surprising, it is utterly devastating nonetheless. Yet Anna and the Swallow Man continue on until they find themselves cornered by ill health, discovery and injury, and the Swallow Man is forced to reveal something of his identity and make a decision about Anna.

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN is part folklore, part coming of age novel, part poetry and has, at times, the feel of post-apocalyptic literature, as the characters move across a dark and devastated landscape. There is violence of several varieties as well as physical menace and emotional uncertainty. The Swallow Man and Reb Hirschl posit two moral responses to the world they are living in and Anna represents a hope and innocence that they believe is worth saving. The conflict finally takes a serious toll on Anna and the Swallow Man as both succumb to what they have feared for themselves and for each other. Savit’s ending is enigmatic and disturbing and will generate much discussion and speculation.

This is a spectacular book. Savit’s writing is dreamy and lyrical even as it is explicit and terrible. ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN is a daring and mesmerizing look at the horrors of World War II as well as a heartbreaking story of a particular, wonderfully created, young girl.

   --- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman

Anna and the Swallow Man
by Gavriel Savit