Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man
Gavriel Savit
Knopf
[January 26, 2016]
ARC from publisher

A stunning, literary, and wholly original debut novel set in Poland during the Second World War perfect for readers of The Book Thief.

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.

Destined to become a classic, Gavriel Savit’s stunning debut reveals life’s hardest lessons while celebrating its miraculous possibilities.
I went into this book excited to cry. Any book that's pitched as something like The Book Thief is a book that should be bringing the tears. Usually, those pitches aren't all that accurate and really just mean it's set during World War II. But in this one? This one was not kidding around. It really was like a middle grade version of The Book Thief.

The writing was beautiful and probably what makes the comparison to Book Thief most appropriate. It was lush and devastating. I was totally entranced while reading to the point that I stayed up quite late the day I read it, despite having a very long day and knowing I had to get up early-ish in the morning (to, of all things, visit a concentration camp). It was subtle and lovely and just...I could go on and on about how well it was written.

I also loved reading the journey of it all. There's this constant sense of anxiety when you're reading it because while it may not be a traditional thriller, there's something dangerous lurking everywhere in the places they traveled at the time and neither one was safe. That constant fear and worry sticks with you that this, maybe this, will be the spot where something goes wrong. It's a slow story in a lot of ways, but that's not necessarily how it reads, if that makes sense.

This had all the elements of an amazing story, but something about it still didn't click fully with me. Don't get me wrong, I cried and fell in love with the writing and Anna and the Swallow Man and the tension. I'll happily be picking up Gavriel's next book too. But there was just some little spark missing that kept this from being a favorite or a 5 star read. I can't even identify what it was, but there was something.

Still, this was such an important, painful, beautiful, hopeful read. It really did have echoes for me of reading The Book Thief and Between Shades of Grey. I cried and had to think a lot and just didn't want to set it down. If you're ready to cry, definitely pick this one up later this month.

--Julie

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