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Anna and the Swallow Man

Cover: 'Anna and the Swallow Man'

Staff Review: "Anna and the Swallow Man" by Gavriel Savit


Seven-year-old Anna did not realize it that morning in Krakow, Poland, that when her father left her in the care of a pharmacist friend, he would not return. It was November 6, 1939, and her father, a linguistics professor, was one of the many Polish intellectuals summoned by the Gestapo, arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately sent to concentration camps. Her father’s friend, wary of being tainted by association, tells Anna that she cannot stay in his pharmacy, walks her nearly to her door, and leaves before she discovers that her home is locked. While loitering near the pharmacy but unwilling to enter without invitation, Anna encounters a tall man who attempts to connect with her when he asks a series of four brief questions, each in a different language, and Anna is overwhelmed with processing the implication of those seemingly simple questions and unable to answer. The man speaks to and summons a swallow to meet Anna, and she is charmed. When the man exits the pharmacy, she quickly responds to his questions, aligning each answer with the language of the original question. The man gives her a cookie and tells her to stay out of sight as long as she can and departs. Young Anna latches on to this new father figure and decides to follow him at a distance, keeping out of sight. So begins a multi-year journey criss-crossing Poland on foot with the Swallow Man teaching Anna his rules for survival and the importance of not being found. This soon-to-be-classic of WWII historical fiction is the story of an adaptable, intelligent young girl learning the ways of a difficult, unfamiliar world. It’s a story of the gradual loss of innocence and the power of story to make the world easier to comprehend. It serves as a powerful illustration of one of the Swallow Man’s lessons—“Human beings are the best hope in the world for other human beings to survive.” Though the book is firmly rooted in Anna’s point-of-view, the violence and horrors she witnesses are no less disturbing. Adults and teens who appreciate historical fiction, particularly those with an interest in World War II, are likely to appreciate this book. The award-winning audiobook is amazing, and I highly recommend it.

Audience: adults, teens | Genre: fiction

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