Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Review: The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
Publisher: Red Fox
Released: April 3rd, 2003 (1956 reprint)
Alone and fending for themselves in a Poland devastated by World War Two, Jan and his three homeless friends cling to the silver sword as a symbol of hope. As they travel through Europe towards Switzerland, where they believe they will be reunited with their parents, they encounter many hardships and dangers. This extraordinarily moving account of an epic journey gives a remarkable insight into the reality of life in war-torn Europe.
I bought The Silver Sword on my dad's recommendation, after he mentioned he'd read it many years ago in Secondary school. It made a lasting impression on him, and is a book he'll remember reading for the rest of his life.
To a child, this book and its story would be both horrifying and fascinating. It's a simple, short look at a family ravaged by war, and the lengths they'll go to to be reunited. It was first published in 1956, and because of this, it's very different to contemporary fiction. It moves at a much faster pace, and omits any superfluous description or dialogue, which results in a very quick read. Readers of Morris Gleitzman's books Once and Then will find some similarities in the narrative, and are perhaps the best examples of a similar reading level.
I warmed to the Balicki family very quickly, and followed their journey with bated breath. I find that nothing is more devastating than thinking of children caught up in the Second World War, and stories about such things never fail to strike a chord with me. Ruth, Edek, Bronia and Jan are all shining examples of stubborn, headstrong children, with an astounding amount of bravery and a belief that they'll find their missing parents.
Serraillier chose to focus more on the children's journey, which isn't as perilous as it could have been given that a war was raging througout Europe. His story isn't as shocking as other war fiction I've read, which does mean that the more interesting side of the history is often glossed over. It's perfectly understandable, as this is a book for younger readers, who shouldn't be well-versed in the true horrors of war until they can handle it.
Published just eleven years after the end of the war, The Silver Sword was ahead of its time, and was used for both educational and recreational purposes. As a war text, it's not the most informative, but as a story about what it was like to be a child and survive, it's a veritable source of accuracy. I think it's a book that will be read for years to come, and although it's not one often mentioned, I don't think it'll ever be forgotten.