Literary Minute – Anna and The Swallow Man

Men who try to understand the world without the help of children are like men who try to bake bread without the help of yeast  – Swallow Man

Confused is the only word I can really use to describe my opinion of this novel. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit was a very bizarre read with an ending to match. We start off with Anna, who is 7 at the time, wandering the streets alone after her father, a talented linguistics professor is seized by the Germans. Her father, before being found and taken, delivers her to a friend of his who promises to protect her only to abandon her soon after. Neighbors and other friends of her father also avoid and cast her aside, leaving her life up to fate.

She meets with a mysterious man, who speaks many languages, and calms her down by having a magnificent bird come and land on his hand. Anna decides to follow him, and for years they evade the war, scavenging the Polish countryside for food and other necessities. They encounter a lot of little horrors along the way, some self-imposed, others not. I got the feeling as the novel crept toward its ending, we would be left with an open cliff hanger, and Savit did not disappoint.

The novel overall wasn’t a terrible read. There were moments where I was fully sucked into the book and would breeze through the chapters, and other chapters with a completely different vibe. Personally my biggest struggle with this novel was although the plot was so intense, horrific and overbearing, coming from the mind of a 7 year old you didn’t get the sense of it. The wording was that of a grown man trying to imagine how a 7 year old girl would articulate and comprehend it. It also was hard to understand some scenes because of the lack of understanding and perception of our narrator. The unclear timeline was a bit tiring. Having to read between the lines and use context clues wasn’t working for me either. When reading disturbing scenes like what happened between the Pharmacist and Anna, a clear timeline would have helped to determine at what point in Anna’s life this was occurring. I’m not sure Savit’s point was to write confusingly or not, but for me it took away from the novel as a whole. I wouldn’t recommend this book for those that like an easy read, because it definitely wasn’t that. But, if you like bizarre, very mysterious characters that you never truly get to see step into the light and gain a bit of depth – then this is the book for you my friend.


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