The class book review: Anna and the Swallow Man, by Gavriel Savit

The Swallow Man keeps Anna safe in this tale of blossoming friendship set against the harsh backdrop of Poland during the Second World War

Amy Newsham & Fuhaira Chaudhary

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Title: Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Publisher: Bodley Head

Teacher review

Anna and the Swallow Man is Gavriel Savit’s debut novel, and what a read it is: heart-breaking, devastating, life-affirming. It’s a real tear-jerker but, more importantly, it’s a novel that carefully deals with the difficult themes of right and wrong, war, death and justice – topics that can be difficult to approach in a classroom. Savit highlights the issues effortlessly through his beautiful prose and natural storytelling voice.

Anna and the Swallow Man is set in Poland during the Second World War, a time of great conflict and social upheaval. The story begins with Anna and her father at home; they’re a family who can speak many different languages, changing them like clothing. Anna’s father, a professor at the city’s university, goes to work one day but does not come home – abandoning Anna and leaving her with nowhere to go. When a man with a strange coat and the ability to talk to birds comes calling, Anna’s life changes for ever. She flees the city and, walking, tries to find a new home with him.

The “Swallow Man”, as Anna calls him, keeps her safe – constantly protecting her from the wolves (German soldiers) and bears (Russian soldiers) of this world. On their journey, they both change – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But what makes this journey so captivating is the sense of their blossoming friendship, their uncertainty with the world and their desire to try to do the right thing. Whatever that may be.

Curriculum links

I’d recommend this novel for students of Year 8 and above. It would make a good class novel, allowing cross-curricular links with history and PSHE. As you can see from Fuhaira’s review, she loved it and I know many other students would too.

Amy Newsham is head of English at Central Lancaster High School

Pupil review

The story is set in wartime Poland, back in 1939. It features a girl named Anna, daughter of a professor, who knows many languages and is a sensible girl. But one day her father has to go away for a few hours and he never comes back. This innocent girl has to survive in a world of war and all seems lost until the Swallow Man comes to rescue her. He takes her name away from her and swears he will protect her, only if she will obey his simple rules. One of them is that he will not let anyone know who he is. For Anna he is a great man, always sensible and careful.

Gavriel presents their relationship as an honest one. Anna can ask anything she wants from her Swallow Man and he will answer, normally. The innocence of a child in this story is presented quite perfectly. In their journey towards safety, they have to dodge German and Russian soldiers, often fleeing from bullets. Things change as Anna grows, and she begins to question her hero. Who is the Swallow Man and why is he here, helping Anna?

This is a perfect novel from the undoubtedly talented Gavriel Savit. It makes you want to read more and more. It is very well structured and beautifully and carefully written. I would have rated it 15 stars if it was possible, but really I would rate it 5 stars.

Fuhaira Chaudhary is a Year 10 student at Central Lancaster High School

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Amy Newsham & Fuhaira Chaudhary

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