Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

annaI wish that I had loved Anna and the Swallow Man, but I just… didn’t. I liked it, sure, but like isn’t what you want when you’re opening a book that’s been touted as “the next Book Thief.” Of course, you could say that it’s entirely the advertiser’s fault, for insinuating that Gavriel Savit might be the next Markus Zusak. We’re talking about Markus Zusak, after all. The Book Thief is second to none when it comes to fictional depictions of WWII in YA literature. I bawled my eyes out like a baby all through the second half and cursed the day I ever picked up that sobfest of a book… Until I finished it, when I immediately started raving about it to all within earshot. It’s just that good.

But Anna and the Swallow Man fell short of that mark for me. I wanted it to move me, to have me leaving fat wet tear marks on the pages, but it didn’t. It’s not that Savit doesn’t have an interesting take on WWII; he does. It’s not that there aren’t scenes that are heartfelt and moving – horrible and terrible and wonderful moments all meshed together throughout the story; there are. But in the end, if anything, I found Anna and the Swallow Man to be forgettable. Just one more WWII narrative among many.

It pains me to even have to say such things.

I loved that The Swallow Man was such a mysterious figure… at least until the end of the book when I started to realize that I wasn’t going to get any satisfactory answers as to who exactly he was or why he acted the way he did. Then I felt fed up with him and his whole schtick.

I thought Anna was a good protagonist to follow, and I liked that her youthfulness made the story feel more like a mystery – there were many things that had to be put together using only context clues, through the eyes of a child (albeit one growing up in very extraordinary and horrid circumstances).

Savit does a great job dealing with some of the horrors of the holocaust, and the depictions of the dead, as well as what Anna and her companions have to do in order to stay alive, were very chilling and honest.

But in the end, I felt like Anna was a slow burn that built up to an unsatisfactory ending. Even when the story moved slowly at first, I kept reading – because from the beginning I felt invested in learning the history of The Swallow Man and seeing Anna and him through to the story’s outcome. But in the end I felt a bit cheated of the dramatic ending I had built up to while I read. I was expecting a much more climactic finale, with more answers and less vague niceties. Sure, I understood the basic mechanics of what was going on in the final scenes, but that didn’t help me truly piece together The Swallow Man’s past. Perhaps that was intentional, but I found it to be dissatisfactory to my tastes.

There will probably be people who really love this book, and I’m hoping one of them can maybe walk me through the ending so I can partake in their joy. Like I said before, I want to love this book. In the meantime, I’m just going to have to admit that I didn’t and move on.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Have you read Anna and the Swallow Man? What did you think? Link to your review in the comments! 

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