Gavriel Savit

Anna And The Swallow Man

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Anna And The Swallow Man Summary

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Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit takes place during World War II. It follows the titular protagonist, Anna, a young Polish girl left with Herr Doktor Fuchsmann. Fuchsmann is a friend of Anna’s father, who was recently taken by the Gestapo. At the beginning of the story, Anna hopes that her father will be able to return for her, and amidst this fruitless hope, Fuchsmann leaves her on her own. Anna can’t get into her family’s apartment, and that’s when she encounters a stranger she refers to as the Swallow Man. The Swallow Man decides to take care of Anna.

She learns how to keep from getting caught, as the war rages. Despite her curiosity, he won’t tell her who he is and insists that if they want to survive, his identity must remain hidden. The Swallow Man tells Anna to act like she’s his daughter. He also advises her not to use her name because he believes that it’s too dangerous to use names. Instead of seeking help from others, the Swallow Man believes in waiting until others offer their assistance and teaches Anna this approach as well.

The pair of them live off of the land, finding sustenance in the forest. They avoid overly populated areas like cities and take rural routes from place to place. After she’s been traveling with the Swallow Man for some time, they both meet Reb Hirschl. Right away, Anna befriends Reb, but she’s confused when the Swallow Man doesn’t want him to join their travels. The Swallow Man’s resistance is based on the fact that Reb is Jewish, but he won’t reveal to Anna the nature of his reluctance to travel with a Jewish man.

Eventually, Anna gets the Swallow Man to agree that Reb can travel with them. Anna notices differences in the two men, particularly in their behavior toward her. Where Reb is warm and kind, the Swallow Man looks after her but doesn’t allow any emotional closeness between them. One day, while traveling through the forest, they encounter a peddler. The peddler wants to sell them food, but the Swallow Man knows that the meat he’s peddling is human meat. In addition to selling meat to them, the peddler also wants to spend time one-on-one with Anna and tries to bargain with Reb and the Swallow Man to let him do so.

In order to keep Anna safe, the Swallow Man murders the peddler. Reb doesn’t approve of the murder, but he doesn’t rebuke the Swallow Man either because he knows it was necessary in order to protect Anna. However, he knows he can’t continue to travel with the Swallow Man after what he did, so he decides to follow his own path. Not long after, the Swallow Man and Anna discover Reb’s body. He’s been hanged from a tree.

The Swallow Man and Anna continue onward. She notices that the Swallow Man is taking pills three times each day, at least until he runs out of medication. After that, Anna observes different behavior from him. Their travels take them to an estate in the countryside, and by this time, Anna is quite certain that the Swallow Man is suffering from some sort of mental illness. She knows he needs his medication. She manages to track down a pharmacist, but when she has no money for the pills, she decides to show him her naked body in exchange.

The Swallow Man’s behavior stabilizes after he starts taking his medicine again. They continue traveling until they meet a fisherman. The Swallow Man secures passage for Anna to a neutral country, and though he doesn’t accompany her, he sees to her safety through the rest of World War II.

An important theme in Anna and the Swallow Man is loss of innocence. Anna is only seven years old when she’s abandoned in Krakow, Poland. Her father, taken by the war, and Fuchsmann’s abandonment both strip away Anna’s innocence, as the violence of the real-world forces her to grow up faster. When she meets the Swallow Man, her innocence is maintained just a little longer, especially when the Swallow Man kills the peddler to protect her. However, when she shows the pharmacist her body in order to get the pills the Swallow Man needs, Anna’s innocence takes another blow. Even so, the Swallow Man seeks to protect her and what innocence she still has when he sends her away with the fisherman.

In addition to writing Anna and the Swallow Man, Gavriel Savit has many acting credits. He’s performed in musicals at the Goodspeed Theater in Connecticut, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and a number of performances at venues in New York City, including: the Westside Theatre, Off-Broadway, and Broadway theatres. Savit is inspired by such authors as Neil Gaiman, Yann Martel, Adam Levin, Lev Grossman, Susanna Clarke, and Jorge Luis Borges. This inspiration led to his writing Anna and the Swallow Man, which was published in 2016 by Knopf’s Books for Young Readers. The Guardian called Anna and the Swallow Man “a bold debut about wartime abandonment.”