Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

genre: history
rating: 5/5

To be honest, I would've been surprised if I hadn't liked this book. Everything I have read by Diane Ackerman has been exceptional - and this book certainly didn't disappoint.

The Zookeeper's Wife is Antonia Zabinski. She and her husband were running the Warsaw Zoo as World War II and its chaos began. From the beginning, Ackerman assures us that when we read about Antonia's feelings or thoughts, they are direct quotes from Antonia's (or her husband Jan's) writings or interviews. Because of her extensive research, Ackerman has written a history that reads, truly, like a novel. Zabinski and her family are fleshed out and real, their experiences concrete and frightening.

What makes Antonia and her zoo worth writing a book about is its place within the Underground in Warsaw during German occupation. Due to a string of fortuitous circumstances, the Zabinski's are able to stay in their home on the zoo grounds for most of the war. Not only do they just find a way for their family to survive, the zoo under their care becomes a haven and a stop over point for Jews who are escaping from Nazi tyranny. Hundreds of "guests" are hidden and sent on their way to safety elsewhere.

There are portions of this story that will wrench your heart out. It is a view of the war that I have never read - I had no idea of how encompassing the Polish Underground was and to what lengths so many non-Jews in Poland went in order to protect not only their neighbors, but scores of complete strangers. Ackerman weaves in Polish customs and culture, the natural history of the animals in Poland and at the zoo, as well as some of the Nazi party officers who were obsessed with animal breeding, and with Polish animals in particular.

Ackerman is such a lyrical writer - poetic and precise. She tells this story without glossing over the horror, but she also rightly finds the just and honorable, celebrating the individuals who let their own concerns take second place to the greater human good. Antonia's story and other's like her need to have their stories told to remind us of all that is noble and selfless during times of war.

12 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Oh my, but that sounds like a must read.

bethany said...

I got this book at goodwill a while back on someone's recommendation. I am pretty excited to get to it at some point. Great review, Thank you!

Tricia said...

bethany is too lucky to find this at goodwill. I've heard great things about it too. Definitely on the TBR.

morninglight mama said...

I've read about this one-- just put it on my TBR shelf. Thanks for the reminder! :)

Fyrefly said...

I thought this book was interesting, but I had a hard time getting into the flow of Ackerman's writing style. I think maybe there were too many tangents that took away from the main story; I wound up just wishing I could read Antonia's diaries instead.

Beth F said...

I've had this on my wish list. I'll be sure to get to it and not let it get lost under the stacks.

Veens said...

i had considered this book for the WW2 challenge, but couldn't get it :(

now i know, i need to get it for sure!

Trish said...

I'm halfway through this one right now so I didn't read your review. To be honest, I'm finding the writing a little jumpy, but that could just be my lack of concentration in general right now. Glad you liked it so much!!

Oph--just read Fyrefly's comment and that's how I feel as well--too many tangents. I think I just need to pay more attention! :P

Serena said...

This is a great book for the WWII reading challenge Anna and I have going on at War Through the Generations: Reading Challenges.

I think this may go on my list of reads for the challenge

Laura said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this book so much! I just started reading it yesterday, but I've only read about 30 pages. So far, I'm really liking it!

Ramya said...

this is an amazing book.. i know a few people who had issues with the writing and didnt enjoy the book much.. but i loved it for the content!

Anna said...

Sounds like a must-read. Great review.

I've linked to your review here on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

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