This is a reserved, soft-spoken war book, a tale of survival in the midst of horror that chooses its words as carefully and elegantly as the meticulous Swallow Man of the title, communicating much of its story with silence and allusions. It is a story of abandonment and isolation and one of tentative connection. It is quietly, deeply moving.
People are dangerous. People are necessary.
When seven-year-old Anna's father disappears from their German-occupied Polish home near the start of World War II, she is alone. When she and an odd stranger recognize something kindred in each other, he reluctantly agrees to take her in. Or, more precisely, to take her out. His survival strategy is constant movement through the wilderness, nameless and forgettable. He teaches Anna his ways, and for four years they wander the countryside with as limited human contact as possible. Danger is everywhere, though, and ultimately unavoidable, and neither escapes the experience unscathed.