The Swallows’ Flight

Written by Hilary McKay
Review by Ann Lazim

Three sets of characters (and a dog!) are introduced separately and we follow their lives in the years prior to World War 2 until, after the war begins, their narratives intertwine. Animal lover Erik and his best friend Hans live in Berlin and eventually become pilots in the Luftwaffe. Ruby Amaryllis lives above her family’s newsagent’s shop in Plymouth with her widowed mother and her brother Will with whom she has a fraught relationship. Kate resides in Oxford, the youngest of six children in the Penrose family whose previous generation featured in the award-winning The Skylarks’ War (set during World War I) to which this is a companion volume rather than a sequel.

As in her contemporary novels, which include the Casson Family and the Exiles series, Hilary McKay conveys an acute understanding of family relationships and dynamics. This is a story that demonstrates the care and understanding that human beings can bestow on each other at times of crisis and the mood of reconciliation and hope at the end of the book is moving. The effect of World War 2 on breaking down some of the divisions between social classes is subtly handled.

Period detail is wonderfully woven into the story, such as the sweets that were (or were not) eaten—a sherbet dab plays a significant role. This is supplemented by background information appearing in appendices which include family trees and recipes featured in the story that are given their own familial twist.