Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book for Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 12, 2018). The story takes place mostly in Poland from the perspective of a girl named Anna. At the beginning of the story, she is 7 years old when her father, an academic professor, leaves for work one day and is taken by the Nazis to an internment camp. The friend that he leaves Anna with is unable to care for her, so she finds herself on the streets where she meets a mysterious man she calls the Swallow Man. She follows him outside of the city and that’s where the adventure begins.
It’s written in the 3rd person, though it is all from the perspective of this little girl. There are only a few times that the author breaks that fourth wall to explain something, such as the fate of her father early in the story. Other than that, we are only privy to her knowledge of the world around her, which is limited by what she understands.
The story covers several years of the travels of Anna and the Swallow Man, so she does grow up throughout the story. The writing doesn’t change, really, to reflect that, though the conversations and interactions with others do as she physically matures. Also, her perspective of the Swallow Man changes throughout the story as she grows up, and we do see some transformation that both of these characters go through on this adventure.
The plot is pretty fast moving. They interact with various parts of the war and witness several of the well-known Holocaust events, but a lot of it is again taken from the perspective of a young girl. She refers to these factories and encampments that keep popping up that the Swallow Man tends to avoid, but concentration camps are never really named that in their travels. So, having some basic knowledge of the Holocaust can help pick up on a few of these clues.
There wasn’t really any profanity that stood out, but the book did have some adult themes. As Anna’s body matures, there are implications from some of the men they encounter that suggest how womanly she had become. Also, there is a scene towards the end where she has to undress in front of a man in order to obtain something she needs. While there was no touching, the whole scene made me feel uncomfortable.
Also, there is a lot of violence and death. None of it was particularly graphic, most of the violence was done off screen, but there is a lot of death, which considering it was World War II and the Holocaust in Poland, it’s too be expected. It was interesting how Anna interprets the death that is happening around her.
I think, overall, it’s an excellent but hard read. It’s the kind of story that starts out quite light and calm and evolves into quite a dark story by the end. Not normally a book I would pick up, but definitely a good read for this particular time of the year.
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