I admit, I received a copy of Anna and the Swallow Man for review months ago; parenthood (including a miserable bout of PPD after my first was born) has made me careful about when I choose to read about children in World War II. Upon picking it up, however, I realized almost immediately that Savit’s debut novel was unlike anything else I’ve read.
I’ve read quite a few Holocaust narratives in my life. They cut you to the quick, and yet their very existence (with the exception, I suppose, of The Diary of Anne Frank, which isn’t really a narrative anyway) guarantees that the author, at least, is going to make it out alive. Novels make you no such promises, and this novel in particular could have been unbearably harsh if the author had wished it. Instead, it had a mythic sort of quality, a feeling of unreality superimposed on a reality that (in general) readers are going to be at least somewhat familiar with.
It kind of messed with my head.
Not in an evil way, you understand. Savit is very choosy about how he relates details, and the unveiling of the path the plot was taking felt very gradual to me. (This could, of course, be because I had to read more than half of it in very small installments; there were sick kids, there were science fair projects due, and there was Halloween. Realistically, part of the messing with my head came from the necessity of reading only a few pages right before bed for a week or so. Early 1940s Poland is really not the best place to return to just before sleep.) It felt like listening to an skilled oral storytelling, where the Swallow Man and Anna and their travels felt vivid and profound while at the same time removed, somehow. A story that seems both more and less than real is a story masterfully told.
Ultimately, I can only recommend it as an impressive book, although not one for young readers (despite the age of the narrator). Young adults, yes, but not my latter elementary schooler, and possibly not my friend’s junior high schooler either. Haunting and spare come to mind, and yet they seem almost redundant adjectives considering the setting. Honestly? You’ll just have to read it yourself and let me know what you think.