I remember buying this novel a long time ago (maybe two years ago), and like many others, it just ended up sitting on my shelf. But I finally decided to pick it up since it’s so short and I’m regretting not reading it sooner.
The book takes place in 1939 Krakow Poland during the Second World War. A seven year old girl named Anna who is well versed in numerous languages like her father, a linguistics professor who eventually gets taken in the gathering of intellectuals by the Germans, and is left alone to fend for herself. Eventually a man finds her, and she is enthralled by his wisdom. As they navigate the woods out of Poland he teaches her many survival and life lessons along the way.
I really liked the plot because it’s not often that one stumbles upon a historical fiction novel that’s set in this time period and focuses on Poland. Poland was an integral country during the Second World War. However, my one complaint would be the fact that the majority of the plot takes place in the forest, on the run, so it doesn’t really feel distinctively like Poland rather than any other cold country. The characters are unaware what is even happening politically in Poland for most of the novel. It would have been nice to perhaps have more hints of the unique location in which the story takes place throughout the plot.
There were only two main characters throughout the novel, each of them I thought were done very well. Anna was very likable, an innocent yet fierce and intelligent seven year old with a natural curiosity of the world around her. And the Swallow Man a unique character with a genuine compassion towards Anna. He was smart and well equipped in the area of survival. I loved the way in which he tried to use simplistic metaphors to explain to Anna the ramifications of war, that had a deeper life complexity to them. He was the anti-hero of the novel, being skinny and older, yet resilient and brave.
I loved the prose of this book. It was simple yet elegant. To the point, yet descriptive when need be. I can understand why this novel has been thought to be a modern classic.
Overall, I give this novel 4.5/5 stars. It was a compelling story of love and sacrifice in a time of hate and death. I liked the adventure as well as the metaphorical life lessons that the Swallow Man had to offer!