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The Silver Sword

Style: Good

Attitude: Edifying

This review was contributed by Ben G

Cover of The Silver Sword

Author: Ian Serraillier

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 1956

Age Range: Children+

Period: WWII

Setting: Poland/Germany

Genres:  ClassicFamilyWar


Characters:

  • Joseph Balicki, who was headmaster of a primary school before the war and is married to the Swiss Margrit. His three children are: Ruth the eldest who at the start of the story is thirteen, the tough Edek who is 11 and very protective of Ruth and his younger sister Bronia, who is only a toddler when the story starts. They are joined by the fierce Jan who was forced to live on the streets of Warsaw after being separated from his parents.

Synopsis:

The story centres round the Balicki family set against the bleak landscape of war-torn Warsaw and the wreck that is post war Germany. The Balicki family are slowly separated and torn apart before the glimmer of hope of reaching Switzerland and reuniting is reached. First to be separated from his family is Joseph Bilicki taken off and incarcerated in a bleak prison camp. Although he escapes he returns to find his house bombed by the Nazis and his family gone. Unsure whether or not they are dead, he leaves a paper silver sword with Jan, a street urchin who survives by his wits alone. The sword is a token to show his children that he is still alive and heading for Switzerland. After telling Jan to look out for his children he makes good his escape to neutral Switzerland.

Although Jan eventually meets the children in Warsaw, it is a long time after his meeting with Joseph Balicki and understandably he has completely forgotten it. It is only after the children discover the silver sword that Jan's memory is stirred. So after enduring the hardships of wartime Warsaw the three children and Jan, who Ruth now in her late teens adopts, begin the long and arduous journey through Germany to Switzerland with the faint hope of reuniting with their parents which they all cling to.

Notes:

Literary: Those looking for dialogue-heavy books typical of the later 20th century will probably not find fulfillment with this book. The book is very much a semi-classic, typical of its era in that it is not particularly racy and is rich with desciptive narrative. Despite this, however the book is very well written and very engaging. The author's talent lies in that he makes the incredible hardships and trial that WWII presented very real to the child of this age. Appreciation of the context of this book is essential to understanding it and Seraillier allows this appreciation to the fullest extent. The interspersing of the children's experiences with those of their father Joseph also makes for interesting reading.

Family: Family and its importance is central to this story. We encounter this on several levels; Joseph's unconditional, self-sacrifing love for his family, the fact that he is prepared to risk everything simply to be reunited with them. We also witness Ruth gentle caring and maternal attitude to her siblings and to Jan, who she essentially adopts on the journey to Switzerland, all this is far beyond her years and truly heartwarming to experience. At the same time Edek is prepared to make sacrifices similar to his father's, despite his youth. Despite all the separation and hardships the family undergos they still come out of it stronger and still united. War: The author does not shirk away from the realities of war or a wartime situation and the book is certainly all the better for it, it also makes the fact that the family never give up all the more important.

This book can simply not be adequately experienced by reading a review and must be experienced first hand. It is definitely well worth a read.

“It took Joseph four and a half weeks to walk to Warsaw. He had lived in the city all his life and new it well. But now, on his return, there was hardly a street he recognised and not an undamaged building anywhere. The place was as bleak and silent as the craters of the moon. Instead of proudhomes, he found crumbling walls; instead of streets, tracks of rubble between mountains of bricks. Windows were charred and glassless. Public buildings were burnt out shells.”

Monday 25th July 2005