Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: Anna and the Swallow Man

This debut novel by author Gavriel Savit is a mesmerizing page turner of rich layers and subtexts. It defies categorization, first appearing as a middle grade novel, clocking in at a slim 230 pages and featuring a 7 year old protagonist. However, the most important words are the hidden ones that exist in the white space on the pages - and those thoughts are what elevate this novel to a teen and adult audience.  

Anna Lania is 7 years old on the morning of November 6th, 1939, and "there were several things that she did not know." Within the first two hundred words - Anna's linguistics professor father (her mother is never mentioned) is taken from a lecture hall to a prison in Krakow, and from there to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, where "several months later, a group of her father's surviving colleagues would be moved to the far more infamous Dachau camp in upper Bavaria, but that, by the time of that transfer, her father would no longer exist in a state in which he was capable of being moved."

Before heading to the lecture hall, her father had left Anna in the care of Herr Doktor Fuchsmann, who abandons Anna to the street when her father does not return. It is there that Anna meets the man she refers to as the "Swallow Man" after he deftly calls out in bird, where-upon a beautiful iridescent blue swallow lands on his long, thin finger, as a ploy to make Anna stop crying.

Anna follows the Swallow Man out of town, and into the woods of Poland and Germany - where they spend the next four years walking and surviving. The last third of the book is brutal without being written in a brutal way. The white spaces between the words are the horrifying ones with so much to convey, based on the history of World War II and its atrocities. The ending will serve to both uplift and infuriate readers, leaving much to discuss.

To say anything else would give away the magical realism that envelops this novel. Suffice to say, it falls very much so into the "read in one setting" category, as well as "have the tissues at hand" area. You are going to need them. Fans of The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak will want to pay Anna a visit.

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