Anna and the Swallow Man is stunning. It’s the first thing you’ll notice about the book – the captivating cover accompanied by instantly beautiful writing. It is among the few literary young adult novels I’ve read and it won’t be the last.
Anna and the Swallow Man retells a story we’ve heard a million times; one that needs to continue to be told, and it makes you feel like you’re hearing it for the first time. You feel the sadness and anger and confusion that our young protagonist feels, seeing the world change through her own eyes.
7-year-old Anna is incredibly close to her father – master of languages and lover of people – until, on the brink of World War II, he leaves her with a friend and never returns. As Anna worryingly waits for her father, she stumbles upon the Swallow Man – or you could say that he stumbles upon her. He’s a mysterious fellow who’s just as talented in linguistics as her father. She trusts him, because there is no one else left to trust, and they set off on what will be a never-ending journey for the pair.
As it’s a huge part of the story, the importance and significance of language constantly came through. Anna and her new friend are fluent in many languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, French – and even Bird. It is entwined with their identities. And Gavriel Savit shows how their identities can – and need – to change in these troubled times. Along their journey, they make a friend, dodge terrifying soldiers, and always manage to keep on walking. They never stop teaching each other about the world, using colourful imagery to describe why Germans, Polish, and Russians struggle to coexist.
Anna and the Swallow Man is a poignant story, but also at times hopeful and optimistic. If you love young adult or adult historical fiction and want to pick up something a little bit different, Anna and the Swalllow Man is for you.
“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.”
Published: January 2016
Publisher: Bodley Head (UK) Knopf Books for Young Readers (US)
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!