Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers published in 2016.
Many school librarians have students who are voratious readers of holocaust books. I am in a school with many students who embrace those books. I am always on the look out for books that they will enjoy. I’m especially on the lookout for a variety of perspectives, because no two holocaust books are the same. This book is the story of a girl whose father is taken to concentration camps when the Polish academics were rounded up. Before she realizes what happened, she meets the Swallow Man. The Swallow Man speaks a variety of languages, including the language of Birds. Anna joins him on his journey across Poland, and he teaches her the language of Road.
Throughout the course of their travels, they meet a Jewish man named Reb Hirschl. He is a clarinet player who loves life and is filled with joy. The Swallow Man may be guarded and careful, but Reb Hirschl is a man who is boisterous and carefree. Anna enjoys her travels with both, but tension is brewing.
This story of survival has many layers that younger readers may have trouble noticing without prior knowledge. The Swallow Man is very keen on noticing the difference between Germans and Russians. The Swallow Man also claims that he is on the run from those that would use him to destroy the world (race for the atom bomb), and struggles with mental illness. He speaks in metaphors, which sometimes get confusing. There are also some scenes that allude to the potential for sexual assault. (The Swallow Man protects Anna from a peddler who was fixated on her.)
It feels like this book was written for adults, but was marketted toward middle grade and young adult. It reminded me of several books by Nicole Krauss. I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if my students would jump into this book the way they do other books placed in this time period.
“To be found is to be gone forever.” (p 46)
“People (including wild beasts in disguise) are more confident in their decisions when they think they have changed their own minds.” (p 70)
“Poland is, despite (or perhaps, in part, because of) all her bloodshed, a country of singular magic. Everything in the world exists in Poland, and exists in an old and silent way that is somehow more than natural.” (p 74)
“Some secrets, though widely known, are better kept hidden away.” (p 89)
“Regret is like golden jewelry: at the proper moment it may prove immeasurably valuable, but it is rarly wise to adertise its presence to strangers.” (p 93)
“Here in front of her was indisputable evidence that the world was not everywhere on fire, and was in fact, growing kinder in places.” (p 147)
“She learned late the way in which the rest of the world understands stories, not as absolute, irrevocably factual truths that simply don’t exist, but as flaccid allegories or metaphor.” (p 192)
FTC Disclosure: I recieved this ARC from the publisher…I recieved no monetary compensation for this review.