This book has elements of historical fiction, fairytales, and folklore — all set against a backdrop of war and anguish. It’s 1939 Poland where we find seven-year-old Anna, whose father (a university linguistics professor) has just been taken away by the Gestapo. Alone, hungry, and afraid, Anna is taken in by a mysterious, nameless stranger that she comes to call the Swallow Man.
The pair quickly connect through a shared gift — an affinity for speaking and understanding multiple languages. Thanks to her father, precocious Anna is conversant in German, Russian, French, and English as well as some Yiddish and a few other dialects. The Swallow Man is even more skilled than Anna, as he can speak all of these languages and also has an apparent supernatural connection with birds.
As they travel together, the Swallow Man teaches Anna the language of “Road” which involves adapting to whatever identity is necessary to survive in a war ravaged and evil world. It’s clear that the Shallow Man cares deeply for Anna as he serves as protector, guide, teacher, and father, but there is always a shroud of mystery that surrounds this man.
Without an actual destination, the companions wander together for years just trying to survive. The Swallow Man tells his young charge that they are on a journey to save an extremely rare and endangered bird — the last of its kind that the Germans and Russians want to kill so they can become more powerful. It’s never made clear who the “bird” is and this is one of many themes in the book that aren’t fully explored or resolved. Overall, the writing was quite good for this debut novelist but the ending was fairly abrupt and leaves many unanswered questions.
Order in Bibz.