It’s 1939 and Anna’s Łania’s father is gone. He left her with a family friend while he went to a professor’s meeting, and what Anna doesn’t know is that her father, along with other Polish intellectuals, has been arrested, taken to prison, and will ultimately be transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There are soldiers in the streets of Kraków, people are afraid, and Anna is alone and hungry.
While she’s waiting for her father, Anna meets the Swallow Man, a mysterious man who reminds her of her father. Like her father, he speaks many languages, and he even summons a swallow by singing and chirping like a bird. When the Swallow Man warns her to stay out of sight in the city, Anna decides that he must want her to follow him, so she follows him out of Kraków and into the fields outside of the city. After she warns him of approaching danger, the Swallow Man agrees to protect Anna and together, they begin traveling around the Polish countryside. The Swallow Man teaches Anna a language that he calls Road and instructs her in wilderness skills. A chance encounter introduces them to Reb Hirschl, and despite the Swallow Man’s misgivings, he travels with them across German lines and into Ukraine, where they find themselves on the front line Operation Barbarossa.
In Anna and the Swallow Man, Gavriel Savit softens the horrors of the war and ethnic cleansing by adding some qualities of fairytales; two Polish children believe Swallow Man is Boruta, a Polish demon who can shapeshift, and as in every good fairytale, there are valuable lessons to learn about life. Savit’s writing is exquisite and readers are left to draw their own conclusions about Anna’s future and who her hero, the Swallow Man, really is. While Anna and the Swallow Man is considered to be young adult fiction, readers from teenagers to adult will find themselves captivated by this story.