Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit


Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Release date: January 28, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 240
Goodreads || Book Depository || Dymocks

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 . . .


4 stars

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.


14 thoughts on “Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

  1. Nick says:

    Beautiful review, Jenna. I hadn’t seen this one around but it sounds like a very unique YA book. I’m very curious about the relationship between the Swallow man and Anna and I love the sound of Anna’s character growth throughout the book. I’ll try to find myself a copy at the library if I can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      The relationship between Anna and the Swallow Man was definitely the highlight of the book for me! It was such a unique relationship as well because they weren’t quite father and daughter but also not quite comrades on a trip around the country. I hope you enjoy this one, Nick!


  2. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence says:

    I’m not really sure about this book yet. I mean they’re just wandering around randomly for years and years without much explanation as to why? It sounds like Anna is a wonderful character, and the relationship between her and the Swallow Man sounds pretty intriguing. Lovely review Jenna!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      They pretty much just wander around aimlessly for years but you do get a little bit of an explanation at the end. It’s very subtle though and you have to read between the lines to understand it. The relationship between Anna and the Swallow Man was amazing. It was such a unique bond as well. I hope you like this one, Jeann!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Summer @ Xingsings says:

    I so agree with you on a lot of points, Jenna! Wouldn’t it be a huge and strange plot twist if after a few years Anna met her father? (And he really wasn’t dead as we all assumed?) The literary feel was definitely there. And I loved the magical realism elements that left us guessing what really happened. And the mysterious Swallow Man! Like that ending?! What was that?? D: And gosh, that awful part when Anna was in the pharmacy? Sigh, this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Oh gosh, that scene in the pharmacy broke my heart T_T *shakes head*. And I’d love a sequel where Anna reunites with her father (or you know who). Tbh the magical realism had me a little bit baffled and I’m still trying to make sense of it but I absolutely loved the ending! I read your review again and I think we took away the same thing from the ending.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s