Kraków, 1939, is no place to grow up. There are a million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. And Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father and suddenly, she’s alone.
Then she meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall. And like Anna’s missing 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.
Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgement, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous . . .
I received a copy of this book for review from Dymocks via the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
The premise of this book is simple. Seven-year-old Anna is left with a friend of her father, while he attends a meeting at the university where he works as a linguistics professor. However, he never returns from his meeting and Anna is left alone in the middle of Kraków when her father’s friend abandons her. She meets a tall stranger who speaks multiple languages and reminds Anna of her father, and ends up following him around Poland for years. But while the premise and the plot of the book are simple, there’s a lot that’s left to interpretation. And it was this aspect of the book that I enjoyed and felt moved by the most.
Although this is classified as a young adult novel, it had a very literary feel to it. The writing was beautiful and conveyed so many emotions, while still remaining simple and easy to read. There was very little dialogue and lots of description that really transported me to WWII Poland. I felt like I was there with Anna and the Swallow Man, trekking through the snow in the winter with an empty stomach. And books like these are my favourite to read because it’s very rare for me to read a book and feel like I’m experiencing everything that the characters are going through. The book had a very slow-paced historical fiction feel to it, so if you like the genre, you will enjoy the pacing of this book.
The plot of this book may seem banal to some readers, but I highly enjoyed every moment of Anna’s story. The Swallow Man takes Anna under his wing and the two of them set off on a journey around Poland. Though the Swallow Man seems to be leading Anna around with purpose, there doesn’t seem to be a destination and the two wander around aimlessly for years and years. We do get a small glimpse of the reason behind this trip around Poland towards the end of the book, but much of it is up to the interpretation of the reader. I’m very satisfied with my own interpretation of the conclusion of the story, which was why I enjoy this book so much. But I can also see readers not liking this novel at all because it can seem quite pointless.
Anna still was not certain what precisely was meant by this word “war,” but it seemed, at least in part, to be an assault on her cookie supply, and of this she simply could not approve.
Anna was a wonderful character. You really get to see her grow and mature quickly throughout the book. She starts off as an innocent little girl who isn’t really sure what the war really means and what it means to be on the run. But she quickly learns to shed her identity, to blend in, and to survive. I enjoyed seeing things from her perspective, and I enjoyed that we didn’t really get to see the things that Anna learnt and or went through in her first two years with the Swallow Man, but slowly got to see more as she matured. It showed her maturation and how she was starting to think for herself, rather than following and imitating the Swallow Man’s every action and order. It was wonderful to see her incorporate her experiences and her interactions with other people into her identity and personality. Anna is a character who you will want to root for, no matter what happens.
The relationship that she had with the Swallow Man was a unique and puzzling one. It was beautiful to see their connection and how they treated each other like father and daughter, despite the Swallow Man’s aloofness and the distance that they placed between them. They really felt like kindred spirits who were meant to share this tough journey together. The way that they took care of each other and were responsible for each other really moved me, and even destroyed me at certain parts of the book.
If you’ve read Anna and the Swallow Man, I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you thought of the ending. I enjoyed the whole book immensely, especially the bond between Anna and the Swallow Man.