Anna and the Swallow Man

Written by Gavriel Savit
Review by Jane Burke

This is the author’s first book. Anna and the Swallow Man is a dark and beautiful novel about the complexities of mankind and the terrors of war.

The story begins in 1939 Kraków and follows seven-year-old Anna Lania’s journey after her beloved father is ‘found’ forever by the Nazis. Anna befriends a multilingual and mysterious man, who can speak to birds: the Swallow Man. He guides her through battered Poland armed with a pocket knife, a fair few secrets and a strict set of rules to navigate their perilous landscape.

Gavriel Savit gives Anna and her Swallow Man the metaphorical and literal superpower of language and stories to fool the German (‘Wolves’) and Russian (‘Bears’) soldiers who are out to catch them. Savit’s prose is enigmatic and subtle but in places can seem laboured. However, he handles difficult subjects such as mental illness, death and the holocaust elegantly and with appropriate gravity whilst making them understandable to young readers. This is done through Anna’s eyes, and Savit’s protagonist is smart and resourceful but realistically trustful of the adults around her.

The book has many difficult scenes in it but has a bright, hopeful ending and is moving and educational throughout. Anna and the Swallow Man would be a great story for readers age thirteen plus, and would deliver great insight to kids on the complexity of the human condition and the benefits of mutual friendship.