"A few wooden huts clung to the edge of the bleak hillside. Day and night, the wind beat down upon them, for the pine trees were thin and gave little shelter. For five months of the year snow lay thick upon the ground. It smothered the huts. It gave a coating of white fur to the twelve-foot double fence of wire that surrounded the clearing. In stormy weather it blew into the bare huts through cracks in the walls. There was no comfort in Zakyna” (14)
The author paints a picture of almost unimaginable austerity, and the bleakness of the surroundings mirrors the bleakness of Joseph's situation. Even the huts have to cling to the hillside, which gives an air of total desperation. Everything about this description makes the reader feel cold and alone, just as the prisoners would have felt; the isolated location of the camp emphasizes Joseph's isolation from this family.
"The place was as bleak and silent as the craters of the moon. Instead of proud homes he found crumbling walls; instead of streets, tracks of rubble between mountains of bricks. Windows were charred and glassless” (30)
The crumbling, once-proud homes mirror their crumbling, previously proud owners, who are now as broken down by the German Nazi occupation as their houses are. This description demonstrates the brutality of the regime and how only shells of people remain after the attacks. It also shows that, just as the homes and streets are unrecognizable, people are forever changed by their experiences. There is also an interesting correlation between the descriptions of the city and the camp at Zakyna, as the city is seen to have mountains and tracks made by rubble, rather than by geography.
"In the wilderness people still managed to go on living. Joseph saw them wandering, pale and hungry-eyed, and vanish down paths of their own into the ruins. They had made their homes in cellars or had dug caves in the rubble. A few had even tried to make them look gay. A bomb gash in a cellar wall was draped with bright curtains.in another hole was a window box full of purple crocuses” (30)
This description refers to two of the book's main themes: the devastation of Nazi occupation, and hope. The devastation here is almost apocalyptic, with starving people appearing in an almost zombie-like state, making homes out of a network of tunnels and ruins. However, amid the devastation, the human spirit has triumphed with hope as the people refuse to be beaten down. They put up curtains and arrange bright spring flowers in an act of hope and defiance.
"The river grew faster, and the bank flashed past. Soon they were in a kind of gorge where the river squeezed past great boulders, some of them as high as houses. Some of the swells were over a foot high, and the spray dashed over the bow and stung their faces. The river roared here so that even the loudest shout could not be heard. Out to the left there were huge oily surges that looked as if they would pound you down into the depths if you got caught in them” (149)
Once again the author describes the magnitude of the task of escaping to Switzerland by using the perilousness of nature. While the German Nazis were primarily responsible for destruction and soldiers of all armies represented potential danger, the terrain along the children’s journey was just as dangerous as the soldiers. The sheer size of the swells and the expanse of water are described so that the reader can not only visualize them but hear them as well. The terror of the depths is also emphasized, as we are told of the oily surges that would easily drown one of the children if they strayed from their route near shore.
"Suddenly in one huge downpour, the sky shed its burden of rain. It lashed the lake and beat upon their bare heads and soaked them to the skin. In great blinding sheets it fell, so that they could not see where they were” (172)
Just like the children in the novel, the reader is able to feel the pounding of the terrifying rain. It is almost an entire storm's worth falling at once, and we also feel the children’s fear and discombobulation as the rain prevents them from getting their bearings. Once again their journey has proved treacherous; it is danger from Mother Nature rather, than from German soldiers, that proves the most challenging.
The Silver Sword Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Silver Sword is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.