Thursday, May 05, 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Copyright 2016
Alfred A. Knopf - YA/Holocaust/WWII
232 pp.

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.

~from p. 9 from Advance Reader Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

In the November cold, resting out of doors for the very first time, and beset on all sides with what seemed like the world congress of inconvenient tree roots, she hardly slept at all.

~from p. 39 of ARC

I don't feel like I can possibly do Anna and the Swallow Man justice, so I'm going to link to my friend Jill's Goodread's review. I don't think it's got any spoilers, although it will make a lot more sense after you've read the book. And, you definitely should, particularly if you are interested in a completely unique view of the Holocaust. It is achingly beautiful, brilliantly written, heartbreaking storytelling.

In brief: 

Anna's father is a professor of linguistics in Krakow, Poland. In 1939, he is arrested while Anna is being watched by a friend. Locked out of their home and unsure where to go, she meets the Swallow Man, a lanky stranger who is as fluent in many languages and dialects as her father and Anna, herself. He refuses to share his name and insists that Anna not use her name in public, as well. Anna follows him as he walks around Poland and across borders, teaching her how to live off the land and how to behave when they are around people, particularly the Wolves and Bears (Germans and Soviets).

Years pass, Anna grows, a third straggler joins them for a time. Will they survive till the end of the war?

Highly recommended - I'm surprised this book has been marketed as YA because it's definitely a dark read, but the author has said perhaps the marketing not a bad thing, maybe that choice has opened up the readership. And, when I think back, I realize that I read books about the Holocaust when I was pretty young. My first real peek into WWII was a "Drama in Real Life" in Reader's Digest that I read when I was 10 years old. The Holocaust a crucial part of our history and one that should never be forgotten. Anna and the Swallow Man is the kind of book that really brings home the horror, deprivation, and evil of the Holocaust, and yet at the same time it portrays the compassion and hope that kept a portion of the Jewish population alive when so many were trying to exterminate them.

Anna and the Swallow Man will stay with me for a long, long time, I'm sure. It's the kind of book that should be read repeatedly, studied, and discussed. Heartfelt thanks to my friend Paula for sending it to me.

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  1. OK, little secret about me. I do NOT read books about the Holocaust. They make me so achingly sad and depressed that it's just simply not healthy for me. I really want to read this book, though! Have you read The Hiding Place? I can't handle that one. Is this like that? I guess what matters is this: Does it take place in a concentration camp? That seems to be what I can't handle.

    1. It doesn't take place in a concentration camp, but it's rough. If you have trouble with the Holocaust, you might be best off skipping it. Yes, I've read The Hiding Place and concentration camp stories are all, in some way, heart crushing; but, I thought it was so beautiful the way Corrie ten Boom and her sister reacted, keeping everyone's spirits up by talking about scripture and God's love. I didn't have a problem with it; I think maybe I've read enough about the Holocaust to have built up sort of a mental wall of defense. Anna and the Swallow Man is definitely a difficult read. They spend most of the war walking -- sometimes hiding, sometimes out in the open -- and they have to deal with a lot of horror.

      I'll tell you a wonderful book you should look for if you want to read about WWII but prefer something lighter: Good Evening, Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes. It's a set of short stories that take place during WWII. You get the sense of what's going on around the characters (the hardship of rationing in England, for example) yet the stories are subtle and, at times, hilarious. It's just a wonderful book; I can't recommend it enough. I don't know how to add a link, here, but if you google "Good Evening Mrs. Craven Bookfoolery", it will take you straight to the link to my review.

  2. This sounds like a book I want to check out!

  3. I haven't been in the mood for a "heavy" book in quite a while. I may keep this in my mind for when may taste swings that way again.

    1. I know how that goes. Sometimes I can read darker books and sometimes it's just not bearable. When you're in the right mood, though, it's an exceptional read.


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