cover image Anna and the Swallow Man

Anna and the Swallow Man

Gavriel Savit. Knopf, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-553-51334-9

Like Life Is Beautiful and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this deeply moving debut novel, set in Poland and Germany during WWII, casts naïveté against the cruel backdrop of inhumanity. Late one autumn morning, seven-year-old Anna is put under the care of a pharmacist. Her father is supposed to retrieve her in a few hours, but he never returns. Cast from her caretaker’s shop, Anna has nowhere to turn until she falls in with a reluctant stranger, a tall, reticent man. Thus begins a years-long journey through the woods and beyond that draws Anna closer and closer to the strange man, who communicates with birds and speaks in metaphors (“Everything he said—even, perhaps especially, the things he left out—seemed to carry the reliable weight of truth”). In his quiet yet firm manner, the Swallow Man teaches Anna lessons of survival, some of which challenge her instincts to be honest and compassionate. Savit’s economical prose beautifully captures a child’s loss of innocence and the spiritual challenges that emerge when a safe world suddenly becomes threatening. The subject matter and gritty imagery may be too intense for some younger readers, but those knowledgeable of wartime atrocities will recognize the profundity of the bond of trust built between two strangers who become increasingly dependent on each other. Ages 12–up. Agent: Catherine Drayton, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)