The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

A highly readable WWII story, sanitised for children 

This book was often recommended to me by my Nana, who had married a Pole during WWII, and regularly bored family members and acquaintances with stories of how wonderful all Polish people were (my grandfather was certainly very charming, and rather funny) and how much better it was during The War, you felt safe leaving the house open, although it was terrible how many boys never came back… However, I’d never actually read The Silver Sword until a friend lent a copy to my daughter, who’d taken it on holiday with her, and as I wasn’t able to use my Kindle during take-off, I picked that up instead.

The story is about a Warsaw family who is split up, with Mum and Dad sent off to camps in separate incidents, and the three children, who turn out to be plucky, good, resourceful and very very lucky, have to fend for themselves, before they set out to look for their parents. They team up with a lovable rogue, Jan, a child their own age, who has a sad tendency for petty thieving, as he does not have the same high moral values the brother and two sisters were lucky enough to receive from their parents. Jan’s reprehensible behaviour is also explained by the hint of some trauma involving soldiers, which is never described (did I say this was a sanitised book?) However, his survival skills come in handy plenty of times.
Along the way, the children encounter a jovial and kindly Russian officer, a gruff and kindly Bavarian farmer and his wife, with whom the children instantly understand they can’t hate all Germans, a jaded but kind American official, a cheerful and kind American GI and of course, plenty of kind Poles (but we have no other detailed descriptions of their characters – they tend to come in groups; the author does spend a little time on the children’s father, but their mother is barely sketched).
Abhorrence of spoilers prevents me from saying anything further about the plot (apparently based on true facts); suffice it to say that I found this is a really good read, and one that reminded me very much of a WWII based story which was a childhood favourite of mine : The Borrowed House by Hilda Van Stockum, where there is a lot less action (it’s an Anne Frank “scenario”, rather than an epic journey across Europe) but more psychology. Now I come to think of it, Janna’s “magic” ring in The Borrowed House is the equivalent of the silver sword (a paper knife in fact) after which the book is named.

One thought on “The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier”

  1. I loved this story as a child & have heard it recently dramatised on BBC radio 4 extra.Loved it just as much.

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