ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN
Written by Gavriel Savit
Published by Knopf, January 26 2017
My star rating: 2.5 stars
Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.
And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see. The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her 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. She follows him into the wilderness. Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man. (Goodreads)
I wanted to love this book. If you’ve followed me on here or Books Amino for a while, you will know that one of my favourite genres is historical fiction with WWII as the subject matter. Unfortunately this book just didn’t suit me at all.
Let’s start with the positive aspects. First of all, I really enjoyed the writing style. I felt like it flowed well, he could describe the setting beautifully, he captured the perspective and thoughts of a child character well, and he was able to create a mysterious character that kept me intrigued from beginning to end. The first 50-100 pages were very strong and had me completely immersed in the story. Unfortunately that’s where the pace fell off track along with my interest.
As soon as the pace slowed that’s where things went wrong for me. They were alone and struggling to survive in the wilderness, running from soldiers and front lines. This was a big missed opportunity in my opinion. Instead of constantly having to overcome different obstacles they just seemed to repeat the same things. Yes, there were obstacles but, when they faced them, they quickly dissolved the situation and moved on to more of the same thing.
Given that this was from the perspective of a small child it made it difficult for me to connect with the characters and the story itself. Small children, it seems, weren’t given a lot of information as to what exactly was going on in the world and why. I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a few weeks ago and it was the same thing. He knew something was going on but all the adults around him gave obscure answers and it only caused more confusion, questions, and problems. The author did do a very good job with the perspective of a child, but it made the plot and ‘meat’ of the story less substantial. It just felt like it was lacking something. A child sees things in the most innocent of ways. They don’t look at monsters as monsters. They don’t look at desperation the same way either. And because of that perspective I lacked the emotional connection with this horrific time in history. This book also lacked the usual emotional punch that I’m used to experiencing when I read a WWII historical fiction.
Another issue I had was the character development. Anna’s character was developed quite well. In the beginning we got lots of information about her relationship with her father and how he taught her different languages. As she grew along their journey we were let in on her thoughts and emotions which was great. We were also able to see how she processed events and information. Her reactions were very appropriate to her age and I appreciated that greatly. But the Swallow Man – I just don’t get him. At all. In the beginning I actually enjoyed the mystery but as the book went on it got more and more confusing. And when we finally got to learn something about him the details were full of holes and it was WAY out in left field. There was also a secondary side character that came into the story and left the story with little to no information about him.
What I disliked most about this book was that there was an aspect of magical realism meshed with Polish folklore. It just felt so out of place with the rest of the story.
This wasn’t an awful read by any means. I did enjoy reading about their journey and finished this book very quickly. It just wasn’t a book that suited my personal tastes and the issues that I had with it far outweighed my enjoyment. I think that maybe if I had read this at a younger age I would have been able to appreciate it more.
Until next time, happy reading!
***Disclaimer – this book was sent to me from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influences my thoughts and opinions.