REVIEW: ‘Anna and the Swallow Man’

8 Mar

There are a number of novels, geared towards young adults, which are written about WWII.  As such, it is tempting to dismiss Anna and the Swallow Man as yet another one these texts.  To do so, however, would be a mistake.

Anna and the Swallow Man tells the story of the relationship between the titular characters.  Anna is a young girl who has been raised by her multi-lingual father.  One day her father is called to the university at which he works.  He does not return.  Anna finds herself alone and scared.

Well, she is alone until the Swallow Man finds her sitting outside Herr Doktor Fuchsmann’s shop.  In German, he asks Anna who she is.  She cannot answer; “she knew there was a version of ‘Anna’ that the Germans used for her, but it felt somehow wrong to say to this stern authority of a man that that word was who she was.  She was, just as much, cold, and hungry, and frightened…”  The man then switches to Polish, asking for whom she is waiting.  Again, Anna cannot answer; “It occurred to her to say that she was waiting for her father, but, in point of fact, she was not so sure of the truth of this anymore…”  Now accustomed to her silence, he tries a question in Russian and, finally, one in Yiddish.  It is the question asked in Yiddish, “Are you all right?” that prompts a flood of tears, not least of all because it “was the one question that, with certainty, she knew the answer to: She was not all right.”  It is in this moment that the destinies of Anna and the Swallow Man become intertwined forever.

Fatherless, Anna follows the Swallow Man out of the city, and the two embark on a journey wherein they attempt to survive the war.  During this journey, the relationship between Swallow Man and Anna develops and changes as each adapt to the other’s company and the realities of the war.

As flagged at the start of this text, languages are significant to the story.  This is apparent not only in the ways that key characters move between languages, but in the way that Swallow Man teaches Anna the language of ‘Road’ as a means of explaining how and why to behave while seeking to survive.

I found this to be a really interesting representation of the WWII experience and would recommend that it be read alongside a range of other texts which present factual and fictional representations of this historical event.

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