Sara Grochowski, children’s buyer at Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich., is already alerting customers and colleagues to a forthcoming first novel, Gavriel Savit’s Anna and the Swallow Man, which Knopf will release in January.
This summer I participated on the ABA’s Indies Introduce committee of booksellers to select nine standout debut novels of winter/spring 2016. We started with a list of 40 books, and over a series of conference calls, we whittled that list down to nine. Gavriel Savit’s Anna and the Swallow Man was one of the first of the nominated books I read and, despite the fact that I still had dozens more to read, I found myself slowing down to spend more time within Anna’s story. I read passages aloud to my family and highlighted sentences that sang so loudly and rang so true that I was left teary-eyed.
The novel begins in Poland, the year is 1939, and seven-year-old Anna’s father has just been taken by the Germans during their purge of intellectuals. She’s alone until a wanderer she knows only as the Swallow Man takes her in. Like her father, the Swallow Man has a gift for languages, which offers a familiar haven in a confusing and increasingly dangerous world. Together they traverse the war-torn landscape, changing their identities as needed, shifting from one language to another, and adapting to each new and uncertain day.
Like the characters in his debut novel, author Gavriel Savit has harnessed the power of language. He’s a talented wordsmith, wielding words and sentences with a precision that allows them to wriggle deep into this reader’s heart, leaving me both enchanted and brokenhearted. After all, World War II was a not a happy time and, despite the bright, shining moments of hope and love and friendship within these pages, it is still a story of war and loss.
Anna and the Swallow Man doesn’t fit perfectly into one specific category or genre. It’s historical fiction tinged with magical realism. It’s upper middle-grade and young-adult. It’s The Book Thief meets The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Even though Savit’s debut won’t hit shelves until January, I can’t stop myself from recommending it. Whether I’m chatting with educators and librarians, customers, or bookseller friends, Anna always feels like a fitting recommendation.