Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword had slipped through my reading fingers until now. We do have a copy of it somewhere, but it was yet another of the ones I never quite managed to fit in. And that of course left me not knowing what sort of a book it is, and I imagined something rather different. I thought it was more recent, if nothing else.
What clinched the deal for me was that it’s another of Cape’s reissued classics with a beautiful cover. It also qualifies as a Journey Book, although you are sort of assured of a certain success at the beginning, so you are less on tenterhooks than you might have been.
At first I found the style a little clunky, and almost thought it could be a first book, seeing as how I felt Ian Serraillier improved as the book progressed. But I appear to have been wrong about that. Having had it on my radar for this long, I also expected something different from the blurb than what I actually got.
But the story of the three siblings in Warsaw whose parents are arrested and put in concentration camps at the beginning of WWII, and who then have to look after themselves is both touching and exciting. The war is strangely short, because we only get glimpses of their lives over several years.
Also the boy Jan who is mentioned in the blurb, only joins them towards the end, so that was another surprising element. And the journey to freedom – in this case Switzerland – begins after the war.
In a way that is the most interesting part. We have countless books about children in wartorn Europe, but much less so from the period just after war ended. It’s easy to think all difficulties will be over, but here quite a few hurdles are thrown at the children. You’re aware of how many sacrifices were made by so many people everywhere.
The end reminded me a bit of Lisa Tetzner’s series of books about the same period, if only in spirit. And I wonder if that kind of feeling only existed soon after the war. Now we are all too jaded, because we’ve seen what happened later.