Poland in 1939 as the Germans invade ushers to its people a different world of war and death. Learning to cope in this new world and traversing its pitfalls is central to Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit.
Seven year-old Anna has had a relatively privileged upbringing by learning numerous languages through her father, Professor Lania. When her father leaves one day and mysteriously doesn’t come back, Anna is left to fend for herself. When she spies a tall, lanky man who speaks several languages himself, she becomes attached to him and follows him, walking throughout Poland as the country deteriorates around them. In this different upbringing, a sense of personal identity is discouraged lest someone find you.
Offering an interesting perspective of the beginning of World War II in Europe, Anna’s youthful, and oftentimes naive, outlook on the frightening turn her world is taking causes the reader to rethink what they know about the war and place it in terms of a wandering child. The language of the narrative was quite beautiful and rather descriptive, helping to build a more complete sense of events and surrounding emotions. While I’m not exactly certain who the audience for this book is, there are a wide variety of topics addressed in this bildungsroman (of sorts) including childhood, war, hunger, abandonment, psychosis, secrets, religion, fear, and death.
Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.