Anna and the Swallow Man
by Gavriel Savit
I'm not sure what to say about this book really because my thoughts on it are kind of torn. I liked it while I was reading it...but the way it ended, it left me feeling really unsatisfied and that kind of soured the positive feelings I had.Summary: 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.
The characters were interesting and it was a unique WW2 story. Historical fiction set during WW2 is one of my favourite genres and I've yet to see one quite like this one, so I appreciated the originality. But it was told in a distant kind of way that prevented me from feeling really invested in or connected to the characters -- I saw a lot of comparisons between this book and The Book Thief, but it lacked the emotional impact that The Book Thief had even if their subject matter was similar (WW2, child protagonist, etc.).
The writing was good, but it could get a bit droning at times and sometimes it seemed like it was trying too hard to seem meaningful to the point where the dialogue felt unrealistic and contrived.
The plot was interesting (although, I'm glad it was a short book because any longer and it would've just felt dragged out and dull), but the ending -- like I said, it ends in a really unsatisfying way. On one hand I know that it was more realistic the way it was done, and I could appreciate that maybe we were being left in the dark because Anna was too, but a story that ends leaving the reader with more questions than answers can make for quite a frustrating reading experience, like you've invested hours of your time reading a story and it didn't deliver what you were hoping. Sometimes I like open endings in stories, sometimes I like the reader being left to fill in the blanks themselves, but not with this type of story.
This review is seeming way more negative than it should be. I enjoyed reading it but I can't pin point why exactly, I just did, but there were a lot of reasons I didn't quite love it. If I had to describe the book in one word, it would be interesting -- while the kind of book it was compared to, like The Book Thief, would get amazing or heartbreaking or stunning or devastating... This was just interesting, it didn't make me care enough to be more than that (not necessarily a bad thing, I like interesting, I just didn't love it because it takes more than that).
So...yes. I liked the book, it definitely wasn't bad, but I didn't love it. The strongest feeling it triggered in me was disappointment. But, that's just personal preference -- Julie's review was much more positive. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5.