The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

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Amazon Significant Seven, September 2007: On the heels of Alan Weisman's The World Without Us I picked up Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper?s Wife. Both books take you to Poland's forest primeval, the Bialowieza, and paint a richly textured portrait of a natural world that few of us would recognize. The similarities end there, however, as Ackerman explores how that sense of natural order imploded under the Nazi occupation of Poland. Jan and Antonina Zabiniski--keepers of the Warsaw Zoo who sheltered Jews from the Warsaw ghetto--serve as Ackerman's lens to this moment in time, and she weaves their experiences and reflections so seamlessly into the story that it would be easy to read the book as Antonina's own miraculous memoir. Jan and Antonina's passion for life in all its diversity illustrates ever more powerfully just how narrow the Nazi worldview was, and what tragedy it wreaked. The Zookeeper?s Wife is a powerful testament to their courage and--like Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise--brings this period of European history into intimate view. --Anne Bartholomew

The New York Times bestseller: a true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.

With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her. 8 pages of illustrations

Customer Reviews:

  • Lest we forget...
    I really enjoyed this book and the photos; I learned a lot. (It should be required reading.) It's well-researched, with notes, a bibliography, and an index. Not only did it flesh out the history, the characters were interesting--the people and the animals. (I loved the badger and the carnivorous rabbit.) Then there were the Nazis; we have to remember them as well...

    Btw, not long after reading it, I came across Rick Steves' Europe: Poland on PBS. He covers the WWII history with photos and film footage and visits to the Holocaust museums, along with current events and people. He visited Warsaw, Krakow, and Auschwitz. Warsaw is full of Soviet-built blocky apartment buildings--a memorial to their occupation. ...more info
  • A good story, not well told
    This book was such a disappointment for me. I usually like books about WWII and of those people who risked their own lives to save those being persecuted by the Nazi's. Unfortunately this book left me cold. I had no connection at all with any of the characters, from the rescuers to the rescued. I read the entire book just wishing it was over.

    During the time of the German invasion of Poland, Antonina and Jan Zabinski harbored hundreds of Jews and members of the Polish underground for as little as a few nights to several years. Risking their own lives and those of their children they provided refuge in their home and in the various cages of their former zoo.

    All in all this is an admirable and truly remarkable story. However Ackerman would go into great detail about the playing of one song on the piano and then glide over many of the logistics of this incredible charade. It is never made clear exactly how this subterfuge was carried out, and one never feels close to any of the people in the book. The writing is either so dry it is like choking down crackers or so overblown it is like smothering in verbosity.

    I read another book about WWII just after this one, and the difference was remarkable. I really wish the Zabinski story could be told by a more gifted writer, this book had the sensation of a distant look back, without any warmth or true feeling.
    ...more info
  • The Zookeeper's Wife
    Oh my goodness, what a wonderful story. Set in the period leading up to and during WWII in Warsaw, Poland, this historical novel brings out the true meaning of human kindness and cruelty, human hope and despair. It is beautifully written and moves with incredible swiftness towards an inevitable conclusion. Enjoy! ...more info
  • Brilliant writing and wonderfully educational....
    I really enjoyed learning about this never-before-told Holocaust story of two zookeepers in Warsaw who helped more than three hundred people escape and hide during WW2. However, I have a really hard time recommending it to others since its extremely historical and fact-driven, and reads more like a text book than a novel.

    That being said, I found Ms. Ackerman's writing superb, as was her attention to detail and research on her subjects, both animal and human. The omnipresent comparison/contrast between human and animal subjects and how they are treated in this book was poignant, as was the essence of the story she tried to capture. At times I found it slightly monotonous/boring and found myself skimming, but as a whole I enjoyed reading it and learning about their lives and the sacrifices they made to help others.

    I wish this novel had been written more as a work of fiction from the zookeeper's wife's perspective instead of from an outsider's perspective. I think it would have greatly enhanced the story and made it more enjoyable to read as a work of historical fiction/ novel. ...more info
  • a compassion for animals and the downtrodden
    I haven't finished the book yet but it's hard to put down. sometimes it gets a bit long in detail. It's the only book on the holocaust that includes animals - making it so special...more info
  • Lists
    I became so bored with all the lists that my mind wandered and I had to force myself to finish the book. It became redundant and there was almost no dialogue. Read like an inventory. Interesting, but would never recommend it....more info
  • A Holocaust Story with Unusual Information.
    I read every book that I can about the Holocaust and the survival of the human spirit. People helping people. I have read 100++ books and this is the first that told of what happened to anamils during the war.

    This is the first positive thing I have ever read that the Nazis contributed to. The final outcome of some species has a positive for us today.

    The thoughts of the zookeeper's wife and her unique ability to work with animals with captivate you right away. This was a very brave Christian Polish family who suffered and risked thier lives for Jewish families all the while caring for anumals too.

    One of the most interesting Holocaust stories I have read. It for me was not a fast read has it is written on a high level of language. I learned a lot of new words as I used the dictonary.

    Highly recommed this book. You will come away with new information even if you like me are well read about the holocaust....more info
  • The Zookeepers wife
    The Zookeepers wife is a book that I've wanted to read for a while now. I just need to find the time in my busy schedule. ...more info
  • I am enjoying this book more than any others in recent years.
    It is written well, has knowlege and insight based on true events. I highly recommend this to others. ...more info
  • Beautiful Book and Beautiful Story
    The story itself is amazing but the way it was written is so exceptional. You can see, you can feel, you can smell when you read descriptions of even the simplest things. The author did lots of research before writing this book and therefore you can learn lot's of interesting facts and details.
    ...more info
  • Magnificant Story but not magnificantly written
    For me personally, the flowerly poetic words and the authors tendency to wander and focus on the unimportant,with WAY too many details, all combined to make reading this book more of a chore than a pleasure. The story is true. The characters real. The impact of life in Warsaw during World War 11 and how these heroic people survived was well worth reading. The subject matter and the sheer reality of the story over powered the authors shortcomings. ...more info
  • Fascinating subject, badly written
    The author is not a novelist, or rather, not a very good one, and although this is nonfiction, she lays the story out in a fictional style. The information comes out in blobs, with no clear unfolding of events, and sometimes it's challenging to know where you are, and when, what's happening to the animals, or even to get a clear visual sense of the zoo, or of the people. She does not dramatize very well. The story and situation can't help but be interesting, but I wish a better writer had tackled this. (And I have no idea why the wife is featured in the title; the story is also certainly about her husband. A catchy marketing tool for female readers who buy books like these, probably)....more info
  • Disappointing
    I have read many touching books about the ordeals of the holocaust victims. And every time I was moved to tears. This story, however, failed to make a connection with me. This was definitely an experience that needed to be written down and passed on. But the writer really didn't do it justice. Instead of bringing the characters alive and letting the reader be part of the events the prose kept you at such distance that it was hard for any emotions to come up. I also felt that the storyline was all over the place. The author gave details where none were needed and distracted from the main story. In other parts it only scratched the surface when the reader longed to know more. Overall, this book is a good example of a fascinating story that was turned into a boring one by bad writing. I would definitely not recommend it.
    ...more info
  • VERY slow book
    I am very interested in World War Two and the Holocaust so when I heard about this book I thought it would make an interesting read for a book club I belong too. I started it and only got to chapter four before I had to stop completely. I found the story to be plodding, and slow. The author also was very descriptive, which also took away from the story.

    If you are looking for a good book about the Holocaust this book is not for you....more info
  • Too much text
    The story in this book is fascinating. It provides the reader with how a real family reacted in WWII.

    The issue with the book is there are just too many words. The author seems so interested in writing interestingly that she goes on to describe things in a paragraph that could have taken a sentence or less. I found the beginning of the book particularly difficult to get through. I would have preferred this story told in approximately half the pages....more info
  • Story could have been told better....
    This book was a disappointment. It sounded so interesting. A true war story of the Warsaw Zoo. It had potential but it fell apart. It did not flow. It was choppy and sometimes it was hard to follow, time and place. The author, I think in order to educate the reader, went off on tangents that made it even more confusing. There were some really interesting parts of this book especially Polish heritage, the war, the "Ghetto", the zoo and the animals and of course, Antonia, Jan and their family. I just think the author could have done a better job telling the story. ...more info
  • Not so Much a story
    I thought it sounded great a story about 2 things I enjoy reading about the holocust and animals. It wasn't so much a story it was more a biography. I just missed the story aspect of the book. What Jan and Antonina did is beyond words. I would hope I could be as brave as they were. The are an unbelievable and amazing family. A great story of totally selfless family....more info
  • bad writing
    Gosh I was so excited to get started reading this book. It is a compelling, heartbreaking story but I found it poorly written. She seemed to be just writing about whatever she felt like. Was it fiction? Was it nonfiction? What parts were taken from a diary? Ahhh! I agree that another writer could have made this story so much more alive and cohesive. It is sad that this story was mangled....more info
  • A wonderful story
    I feel The Zookeepers Wife was a wonderful look into another side of The Holocost. Truly an inspiration.

    ...more info
  • A Good Situational History Book
    Having traveled to Poland, I heard of this story. While I enjoyed the book, the best appears in the last 50 pages. Stories of the Holocaust are always difficult reading. This one is not as difficult and tells a story of heroes. Yet, I was left thristing for details of how the people lived and moved about within the zoo. How were they sure a new "Guest" was secure? I suppose these details are lost to the passage of time and people. This book would make an Oscar winning movie....more info
  • Poles against Hitler
    This book reads like a novel but is the story of the struggle of the Polish people against the German war machine. Centered around a family that runs a zoo and shelters Jews fleeing from the Aryan mania it can be at times very distressing but also very uplifting. I bought this book for my daughter-in-law whose mother is Polish and because she was a Catholic she was swept up by the Nazi machine and incarcerated in one of their 'work' camps. I thought the book would shed light on her mother's suffering and struggles.

    ...more info
  • Powerful book
    When you have read this book you will question how strong you could have been going through such a frightening time. It is a book that you will not forget....more info
  • Too much detail
    Ms. Ackerman is keenly aware of the world around her and she feels it with all her senses. However, for this book, in my opinion, there was simply too much detail - meaning too many excrutiatingly long lists of wildflowers, insects, etc and flowery descriptions where something much simpler would have worked. Her skill with words did have many poignant moments, especially in describing some of the horrific incidents the protagonist and her family had to witness and endure. Sadly, for me, the story was lost in a sea of detail better left to books one reads for education, such as Ms. Ackerman's Natural History of the Senses or Love....more info
  • Worthy subject, unworthy book
    It is sad to find this story of wartime heroism in Warsaw such a failure. Ms. Ackerman, whose work rarely disappoints, has created an ungainly cross between her usual wide-ranging analysis and a form of biography which serves neither function well. Zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who surely merit a better testimony to their struggle to preserve human and animal life under Nazi occupation, seem remote--Ms. Ackerman gets in her own way trying to tell their story by interrupting it at critical moments with lengthy asides on the contributions of Poland to civilization, the etymology of the word "paradise," and the biology of extinct animals.

    An extremely frustrating book--a pity, as has been mentioned, that publishers no longer deem good editorial work to be worth supporting. ...more info
  • The zookeeper's wife
    It was informative, but I had trouble staying awake. More of a documentary than powerful story....more info
  • Great Book for a Group Discussion
    Very good book and well written. Enjoyed it very much and gave it to a Temple for their monthly book club meeting. ...more info
  • Oh, how I tried!
    I wanted to love this book, I really did! I tried to read it for over a week...every day, sometimes several times a day. However, page 180 was as far as I could get. The flowery descriptions and seeming wanderlust of the author was just too much. Was it important to know that the word "vitamin" was coined in Poland? And when Heck was going to kiss Antonina's hand, did we need to discuss both motivation and method of a very simple ritual? I patiently waited for the "story" to start, but at least by page 180 it hadn't. The story sounds amazing...I wish I could read it!...more info
  • A Courageous Knowing Woman in War Torn Poland
    In a superbly told epic story of survival under terrifying circumstances, The Zookeeper's Wife depicts war and nature together, juxtaposing empathic descriptions of nature and animals and the brutal Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Poland. The narrative draws the reader into the daily activities of a family during years of deprivation, from 1939 pre-war Poland to occupation by the Russian army in 1945.

    Combining history and the intimacy of family life, naturalist Diane Ackerman relates how Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Jan, sheltered and saved more than three hundred Jews in their villa and adjacent buildings on the grounds of the Warsaw Zoo. Antonina, a quiet, introspective, knowing woman of the early to mid twentieth century, sensed the underside of things and from that deep knowledge, tempered the violence in which she lived. Her calm courage in the face of great difficulty is never overstated, nor is she made out to be a heroine. Rather, she is a woman doing what she does best and doing it amazingly well in the horrifying circumstance of occupied Poland seventy years ago.
    ...more info
  • For all those who respond to the divinity of all life...not yet a major blockbuster movie!
    This is an exquisitely written and well researched "zoo history" of Poland prior to WWII and during WWII told from the perspective of ordinary Polish citizens caught up in the astrocities of Nazism who defied their oppressors to help save endangered citizenry. The love the zookeepers wife had for all living things whether human or animal permeates this book. It was one of my best reads for 2008.
    ...more info
  • Warming tale
    My husband and I had the opportunity to meet Diane Ackerman when she did a reading in our city. We both came out with the desire to read her book "The Zookeeper's Wife," and were rewarded greatly. The story of this people who hid Jews in their zoo to protect their lives during WWII is heartwarming and true. It shows us the need to have the courage to stand for what is right no matter what. It was well worth our time and much more.
    Anna del C.
    Author of "The Elf and the Princess"
    The Elf and The Princess: The Silent Warrior Trilogy - Book One (The Silent Warrior Trilogy)...more info
  • A Read for Everyone
    An amazing personal insight into the realities of the atrocities committed during WWII by the Nazis'. Everyone should read to get a glimpse of what man should learn from history.

    ...more info
  • fantastic book
    Diane Ackerman writes a fantastic book about the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo during ww2. Yes, there are many holocaust books out there, but this one is pretty amazing. These are people who didn't have to do anything at all during the war if they didn't want to. They chose to put their lives at stake to help over 300 people escape the nazi's during the war. There are parts that are very hard to read, and parts that are very uplifting.

    Great book. Plus now I want a badger for a pet....more info
  • A haunting look at Poland's enormous losses during WWII
    As an amateur scholar of Yiddishkeit, my readings have included several novels and biographies set in the Warsaw Ghetto, so I was familiar with the horrific overcrowding and dehumanizing conditions that Warsaw's Jews were subjected to before the Ghetto was razed in 1943 and the remaining survivors were sent to concentration camps. Many of my maternal relatives immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s, and were fortunate to have escaped living through the wars. For the millions trapped in Poland, life turned into a living hell for Jews and Gentiles alike under the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.

    In Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife, she chronicles the real-life heroism of Antonina and Jan Zabinsk, the zookeepers in charge of the once-prestigious Warsaw Zoo that was heavily damaged in the initial bombing in 1939, who turned to rescuing hundreds of Jews and Polish Underground families attempting to flee for safety.

    Antonina has a rare gift, a deep empathy with humans and animals alike that allows her to sense deeply what they are thinking and instinctively understand how to calm them (which saves her life more than once when facing Nazis). Jan was also an active member in the Underground, using his official documents as a pass to smuggle Jews out of the Ghetto, as well as perform acts of sabotage against the Nazis. They face the unknown in their different ways, Antonina attempting to fill the villa with activity, music, and the few animals that she brings indoors (many of the larger zoo animals were killed in bombings, slaughtered by Nazis for sport, or transported to German zoos).

    Ackerman's prose hauntingly captures the destruction inflicted by the Nazi bombings, the daily humiliations and indignities that war inflicts on civilian populations, particularly on those trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto. At times, the novel is nearly bogged down by the overenthusiastic descriptions, such as a segment on beetles that goes on for several pages, but these scenic detours serve to illuminate the thinking behind several pivotal characters.

    There are certainly important concepts glossed over, such as the Hasidic viewpoint of the Shoah, and at times the quotes taken from Antonina's diary and other documents blur between fiction and recounting based on the sparse endnotes, but the Zookeeper's Wife is a glowing testament to the courage of two unconventional Poles whose bravery saved over 300 lives during one of the darkest periods in modern history....more info
  • To many lists, not a good story, good info.
    The author did an ok job writing this book. There are WAY@too many lists and not enough dilouge and details . for example, by the time it takes a person to answer tyhe door, 7 pages have already gone by when the author explains a piano piece that is berely mentioned at all in the story....more info
  • The Zookeeper's Wife
    Very interesting story. The author has a tendency to use words that can't even be found in
    a dictionary. ...more info
  • interesting enough
    not nearly as good as the npr radio segment led me to believe. less meandering and more substantial description of fact, the inclusion of more events would, perhaps, make this a more compelling work....more info
  • At the zoo
    This true story was irristable and carried me to the end of the book. Being an animal lover I found her bits about the animals delightful. However, the human story, while fascinating, was a bit dry in the telling. ...more info
  • --A must read---
    An exciting and different read on one of the historical events of the tragic Holocaust.
    Very enlightening and enjoyable....more info
  • Choppy & unfinished
    If this was a book about Antonina I would like to know the end of the story. What happened after the war? The book covered a very short period of time and as the title suggests is about the Zookeepers wife taken mostly?? from her diaries. The sources are difficult to tell. There was only a small amount about Poland, the Polish people and the underground. This is not a book about heroic Poles. This is a book about a family and not much about Jan who it appears has a more interesting story to tell. There are names of specific Jews helped but very little about the other help these Jews received to escape once they left the villa.
    The book did give a good description of the psychology of actions and feelings. The depression, not just from bad living conditions but from losing their selves.
    The book did give a good description of the psychology of actions and feelings. The depression felt not just from bad living conditions but from losing their selves.
    I found the changes from the description of an animal pet and her son to the war and cruelty of the Germans not smooth or coordinated.
    The book wasn't a biography but did not have enough coherence or punch to make it anything else.

    ...more info
  • recommended by an actual zookeeper's wife
    This book was recommended to me by Suzi Hannah, Jack's wife. It is excellent. It makes history come alive, even the horrible history surrounding the holocaust. The story is obviously told with as much authenticity as possible. Any detail not known precisely is worded so you know which parts are true and which parts are only probably true. I recommend it strongly....more info
  • Unearthing a Luminous Tale from a Dark Time
    Any woman whose claims to fame include having a molecule named after her can certainly boast her affinity with the sciences. Indeed, Diane Ackerman, after whom "dianeackerone" takes its name, has published an enlightening body of prose about psychology, horticulture, neuroscience...and now the intimate relationship between humans and animals.

    Ackerman's stunning narrative nonfiction work The Zookeeper's Wife explores the haunting paradox created by the juxtaposition of the Nazis' reverence of nature and their desire to shape the genetic destiny of the entire planet. Ackerman tells the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, whose humanitarian efforts amidst the horrors of World War Two saved over 300 Jews. The couple sheltered escapees in the bombed-out cages and sheds of the zoo, as well as in their own villa. The book's rich and evocative language arises from Ackerman's thorough research. She discovered Antonina's untranslated memoir and supplemented this jewel of a find with other contemporary material and her own modern-day research in Poland.

    This book struck me as a sparkling specimen of historical creative nonfiction. I normally prefer reading fiction; there is nothing more alluring than the prospect of getting lost in the pillowy comfort of an imagined world. But I found The Zookeeper's Wife to offer a similar escape. Her language is elegant, her imagery vivid. I found myself lost in the brutal brambles and thickets of Antonina's life, literally, behind bars in the Warsaw Zoo. I am Jewish; perhaps my personal connection to the tale enhanced my enjoyment of the work. Ackerman has found a tale that rings with hope and beauty in a context that history has taught us to perceive as as sinister and horrifying.

    Animal lover or not, you will find a spot for this book in your heart, if only for the experience of Antonina's profound connection with the animals around her. Her nurturing relationship with the rabbit Wicek, and her anointing of each houseguest with an animal name, are simply charming. At times, Ackerman's impressive familiarity with her topic can become overwhelming: a great many facts and figures somewhat dilute the prose. But Antonina's story, and the graceful way Ackerman tells it, will captivate you--or, more appropriately, set you free.

    by Allison Stadd
    for Story Circle Book Reviews
    reviewing books by, for, and about women...more info
  • Encylopedic details to bore anyone to tears
    I read reviews before I start a book, and this book had mixed reviews, however I decided to give the book a try. The storyline and subject matter of this book, could have made wonderful book... however the author has ADHD, was looking to make the book thicker, so they grab an enclyopedia...

    The level of outright encyclopedic details that would bore anyone to tears, that acts as a filler to a great story lulls anyone into a catatonic state. We're not talking details that you would read in a "Outlander" that are on-topic and provide a wonderful historically rich novel. Or *ANY* of Anya Seton's novels, or Elizabeth Chadwicks, etc... this detail is non-essential to the storyline, pages and pages about preserving insects, or pages and pages of details about a musical composer, the minutia of detail drags the storyline down.

    I could not finish this novel, very poorly written. Would not recommend. ...more info
    "The Zookeeper's Wife" is at once thought provoking, inspiring, and beautifully crafted. The zoological, botanical and psychological sciences are represented with care and regard to the layperson's vocabulary. The artistic rendering not only doesn't suffer in spite of a heavy plot, it carefully exemplifies the role of art and science in the survival of a horrific event in history. The historical context is assiduously woven into the fabric of the pages. Artistically, scientifically and historically Diane Ackerman prevails, while creating a compelling read. I haven't been so totally engrossed in a book in many years....more info
  • Great read
    I loved this book. I have always enjoyed stories about the
    war and how people survived and help each other. I'm also a
    big animal lover so I could understand caring deeping about
    the animals....more info
  • Read this or you will miss a blessing
    This book is excellent, could not put it down. It's a must read, one of the best books I have ever read. Diane Ackerman has done us all a great favor by bringing this amazing true story to us. Her writing is flawless. The true story is fascinating and never fails to keep the reader mesmerized. It is a story that should be told, a story of true courage and contains fascinating, but horrifying facts. We are constantly amazed at the daily courage these two people displayed in a country saturated with evil and the fact that one could lose life in an instance, whether Jewish or a member of the resistance helping Jews escape. New horrors of the Nazis are uncovered involving animals. We see the character of the Nazi soldier up close and in individual, unmerciful acts, both to humans and to rare animals.

    The zookeeper and his wife were uniquely brave, courageous and inventive. The courage of these people is amazing and reminds us of the evil powers of the past, and without stating so tells us that horrors of this type can occur again. These brave individuals did not need to find places to serve others in need, they used their own circumstances and environment to all that they could do within their power. Neither of these brave people set out to become heroes, circumstances demanded that they respond to the needs of other human beings using their own unique situation and environment. They never hesitated to answer the call to help at the risk of thier own lives and the lives of their children. They daily threat to them was amazing and they never decided to quit helping....more info
  • fascinating view of ordinary people in warsaw
    Readers will learn a lot about conditions in warsaw during World War II and the heroic actions of ordinary Cchristians in helping the Jews escape the ghetto and hide out in various safe houses. i learned a lot about the Polish underground and the Resistance.
    Ackerman is a naturalist and she includes a subplot about the nazis' interest in breeding prototype horses . She also describes the seasons beautifully and animals play a nice role in the story. She excels in description....more info
  • A Heartbreaking Account
    Diane Ackerman tells the story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo prior to World War II. When the Germans bombed Warsaw, much of their zoo was destroyed, and many of their animals killed. Yet, Jan and his wife Antonina struggled against Nazi occupation, using their house and the Zoo grounds as temporary shelter for over three hundred Jews smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto, while trying to keep their family (human and animal) and their sanity together throughout the ravages and hardships of war. Even while watching their beloved animals taken away, killed by soldiers for rifle practice, the Zabinskis never stopped helping those in need.

    This sad book was a fascinating well researched account of WWII Warsaw. I loved how the author showed us the connection how humans, like animals, must adapt to survive. The book in parts was just far too detailed, and I would have preferred if it read more like a novel....more info
  • The Zookeepers Wife
    I love this book. I couldn't put it down. It was also an encouraging book for a time when hope was fragile. ...more info
  • Too Dry
    This is an amazing story, but it will put you to sleep. In the hands of a better writer, this would be award winning. ...more info
  • Tremendous story
    I really enjoyed Diane Ackerman's writing style. She very eloquently describes the war, the people, and the efforts made by the Polinska's in the efforts to safe lives. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Holocaust....more info
  • A Forgotten Piece of History (to many general readers)
    My sister gave me this book for Christmas, saying it was one of the best books she had read in some time. I was fascinated by her description, and started the book the next day. I finished it the next morning. I found it eminently readable and fascinating. I was a history major in college, and had no problem with what one reviewer, at least, thought of as "precious turns of phrase." In fact, I hadn't even noticed them. I would have, as I have a tendency to start rereading a paragraph when I am confused. I find (and this is the first Diane Ackerman book I have read) her prose to be very readable, perhaps not sparse or bare, but totally understandable, and it contributes to the flow (a very good flow) of the story. Time periods do, occasionally, go back and forth, but she brings a theme or a particular history of person or event, to a conclusion and goes back (in time) to the general. I did not find it confusing.

    Aside from the beautiful story and general history presented, I liked a popular work about Poland during WWII. I am 52, with no Polish ancestry or oral history. An unfortunate American tradition equates "Polish" with stooges and foolish jokes. I find this despicable. It ingrains into people with little or no (or unknown) contact with Polish-Americans a sneering attitude, and an ethnic identity to perpetrate stupid jokes on. Most people are not going to know that the Polish Cavalry saved Vienna from Turkish conquest, or that "Good King Wenceslas" of the Christmas Carol was King of Poland. This is a book which:

    a. Outlines and gives humanity to a critical point in world history.

    b. Tells a great deal about the Polish People (scoundrels, as well as normal and heroic individuals) and the Jews of Warsaw (a similar combination, as are we all).

    c. Tells of Russians (albeit Nazi collaberators) and Germans who were and were not totally depraved psychopaths.

    The book tells us about the human condition: heroic, day to day, despicable, how they cope with unbelievable adversity, how different people deal with each other. I recommend it to anyone who loves animals and other humans, and who has a grain of moral fiber to be nurtured or vindicated. It is a story of normal people who rose to be heroes and saved many, many lives and,often, the sanity that seemed so far off during a time we cannot possibly understand the sheer brutality of....more info
  • The poignancy of the story is emotionally overwhelming; a great and meaningful read.
    The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman (W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 2007)

    This is the story of a zookeeper and his wife living in Warsaw before World War II. They operated the Warsaw Zoo and lived on the grounds in central Warsaw. The story is based on the diary of the wife Antonina, as well as interviews and other historical materials.

    It begins with vivid description of the bucolic life in the zoo, its animals, their sounds, and the details of the operation. The love of the zookeepers family for the animals is touching at this point in the story. The wife nurses all manner of animals, exotic and pedestrian, to health, becoming important elements of the zoo life. The birth of elephants (the twelfth in captivity), lynxes, rhinos, Przywalski horses, big cats, and so on paints the picture of loving, caring people whose life centers around protecting and preserving the creatures of nature.

    When the Nazis arrived, zoo officials from Berlin carted off the most exotic animals and dispersed most of the others to German zoos after a private hunt on the zoo grounds. The wife had a premonition that this brutality was what was in store for Warsaw. Bombing of Warsaw then destroyed much of what remained. The Nazi official responsible for the Berlin Zoo was determined to re-create extinct species, such as the legendary bull aurochs, even has his cohorts were exterminating human beings. Ancient animals were venerated to saintly status, as noble people were ground under foot.

    The zookeeper became active in the underground , as his wife devised intricate strategies to shelter Jews as they were able to extricated from the Warsaw ghetto across the river. Amazingly, this process worked throughout the war.

    The poignancy of the story is emotionally overwhelming. The non-Jewish zookeeper and his family (wife and son) put their lives on the line on a daily basis for the Jews in a far more dangerous and devoted manner that their life of caring for the animals of the zoo. They nurtured friendship and community with those passing through their hands.

    The son is raised in those years loving animals that Germans would shoot for sport or eat. He lived in a largely self-imposed shelter of his own out of fear that he would breath a word that would result in a Nazi reprisal to his family and all whom they protected.

    The reader is drawn into this life. Ackerman tells this story with simple humility, without directly examining the emotions of the characters that she brings to life, as the zookeepers did their four and two-legged wards. As readers, we are left to ponder their emotions. How would each of us react under such circumstances? If we were the zookeeper, risking the lives of his family and fighting with the underground? Or the wife, who respected her husband's mission and did her best to care for each new inhabitant of the zoo. Or the young son who wanted to fight with the underground, but understood that he would put his family and their wards at risk with even the slightest wayward word. Or the Jews who found respite in the zoo grounds. Or the Nazi soldiers who were ordered to murder these innocent people and animals.

    This is a wonderful story, written with just a light touch to allow all of these emotions to rise to the surface for each of us to find our own truths in the lives of heroes under stress.

    A great and meaningful read....more info
  • Caring Community during Holocaust
    This book was recommended as reading for a Jewish book club. At first it was hard to follow, as the writer inundates the reader with so much detail about the animals and grounds of the zoo; she also keeps changing from present to past tense, and it takes a while to realize that she is inserting actual excerpts written by the real life zookeeper's wife on whom the story is based. Getting further into the story, as Poland is overtaken by the Nazis, the emotional strength and self-sacrificing nature of the protagonist becomes clear, and the reading flows more easily.

    Because of her love for and desire to work with animals, I bought this book for a young (age 13) reader. The beauty of this story, which I'm grateful to have come across, is how people help each other survive terrible times, Jew and nonJew, all ages, scientists, housewives, individual artistic the diversity of the animals in a zoo, they all live and survive together. Can we in today's society be as caring and kind, and do the same for each other?...more info
  • Zookeeper's Wife
    It was an excellent historical depiction of the problems in Poland during the World War II invasion. I thought that it had enough information to fill a couple of volumes. Very good book for animal lovers. Not enough personal viewpoints given and no spiritual connections at all, that I could detect. A book worth reading....more info
  • Terrific writer
    After the first few pages, I realized that Diane Ackerman was an excellent writer. Her descriptive language blended with the story and created a mental image of her Warsaw Zoo and home. It was a unique perspective from which to view the atrocity committed against the Polish Jews. My only negative with her story was that it didn't paint the complete horror of what happened in the ghetto of Warsaw. The zookeeper's wife had a comfortable life compared to those in other parts of Warsaw.Even with this negative, I enjoyed the read and will be reading Ms. Ackerman again!...more info
  • Had to put it down
    Avid reader of history, military history, and WWII history. I could not make it through this book. Instead of simply telling the story, the author spends to much time going on and off subjects. After making it 3/4 of the way through I simply had to put it down. Not sure I will pick it back up....more info
  • A captivating read
    The author vividly captures the flavor of life during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. She is meticulous with detail in describing this life, and in presenting the Zabinskis as they endure a monumental struggle. I applaud the author for not going to extremes in all the obvious areas. We know the Zabinskis along with thousands of others are heroic in their actions. We know the Nazis are evil. She establishes these facts but does not hammer the reader with the easy stereotypes. She presents the Zabinskis as real human beings, warts and all, and does not cannonize them. Likewise the Nazis are established as evil, but she is realistic with her characters, they are not one dimnensional. The author gives her reader some credit for discernment.

    The author is a little too descriptive in some spots, for instance the many kind of beetles collected by a houseguest. However, it seems the author has invested a huge amount of time doing her research, so if she has made the trip and seen the beetles for herself, more power to her.

    Some of the houseguests could have been developed more thoroughly. ...more info


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