Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tromping Through Poland with Anna and the Swallow Man

I had the good fortune of reading Gavriel Savit’s new book, Anna and the Swallow Man. It is the compelling tale of a young girl named Anna (age 7 as the story opens) who’s father goes off to a meeting at work one day and never returns.

It happens that Anna’s father is a linguistics professor at a Polish university and Germany has invaded as WW II is under way. The man who was charged with looking after her for a couple hours abandons her the next morning at her apartment building where Anna is locked out of the empty quarters. She does her best to wait, but hunger and fear set in and Anna makes her way back to the street in front of the shop where her father left her. There she encounters the one person willing to acknowledge her presence, the Swallow Man.

This man speaks many languages like her father. He also has the ability to speak to birds. And he takes Anna under wing and introduces her to a at of survival through the unimaginable horrors of war. I enjoyed this book. It was presented as a book for those who liked The Book Thief. While it’s true the two have similar settings, the two books felt completely different to me. It is a quick read, easily done in a day. It left me with a broader sense of unease and a bit of dissatisfaction with the ending.

Warning, spoilers to come.

It became obvious that the Swallow Man was hiding his identity not only from Anna, but from the world at large because he had some scientific knowledge that others might want. Adult readers know that this will have something to do with nuclear weapons development.

I was interested in what happened to the Swallow Man when his pills ran out. I did a Web search on potassium iodide and discovered it is used when people have been exposed to radiation, however in my searching this did not seem to explain his mental confusion and descent into madness.

Also, I wonder about the arrangement the Swallow Man makes at the end that helps Anna to escape in the boat. (At least I am assuming it’s an escape. I didn’t look at maps to see what islands might be off Polish shores and then research to see if that would have been a sanctuary for Anna or not.)

My questions and concerns about details like these, however, simply show that Savit has given readers plenty to consider in reading the book. If you get the chance to read this book, I would love to hear what you think of it! My thanks to Alfred A. Knopf publishing for the ARE I received and the opportunity to review the book!

From the Publisher . . .

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.

Destined to become a classic, Gavriel Savit’s stunning debut reveals life’s hardest lessons while celebrating its miraculous possibilities.

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