Publisher Description: “Set in Poland during the Second World War, Anna and the Swallow Man is a stunning, literary, and wholly original New York Times bestseller and Publishers Weekly best book of the year perfect for readers of The Book Thief and All the Light We Cannot See.
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.” –Publisher
My thoughts: [Spoilers…?]
Wow! This book was beautifully written. Savit’s lyrical language was entrancing. I did not want to put this book down. I could not believe the way Anna was treated by a supposed-friend of Anna’s father (Herr Doktor Fuchsmann) at the start of the book. I never fully trusted the Swallow Man. In fact, when Anna followed him initially, I had this alarm going off in my brain that kept screaming, “Stranger Danger!”
I loved that, in the beginning, the Swallow Man served as a surrogate father, taking care of Anna and helping her to survive living on the road. He turns hard truths into language that a young girl could understand, like: comparing Germans to wolves and Russians to bears—both were to be avoided if at all possible. But, I think I loved even more that Anna was able to turn the table and take care of the Swallow Man toward the end of the novel. The ending of this book was a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, “what-just-happened?” kind of good. After a month or two of contemplation, I think I loved it.
Audience: There were a few parts in this book that might be a little mature for most middle school students, but I’d say mature 7th graders and up could probably handle it, though I’d feel most comfortable recommending it to High School students. The “F-bomb” gets dropped a few times by one particularly nasty character and I actually think it is meant to show his true character. There are also some description of mass graves, death, murder, stealing, etc. As this book takes place during a time of war, there is some violence as well. There are also two rather troubling descriptions of adult men being interested in Anna’s 9-year old body (eww). These scenes definitely gave me the heebeegeebees.
Themes: World War, 1939-1945, Poland, Survival, Occupation of Poland, Historical Fiction, Coming of Age, Father-figures