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

A true story-as powerful as Schindler-s List-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.

Customer Reviews:

  • 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
  • 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
  • Polish Christian zookeepers bravely tend to their menagerie and m¨¦nage, saving hundreds of Jews from the Nazis
    Zookeepers Antonina and Jan Zabinski and their son Rys were three of the many, brave, caring persons who helped Jews survive certain death at the hands of the Nazis. The multi-lingual mom and dad's biggest strengths, beyond bravery, were their abilities to act quickly and correctly during a crisis. Eventually, with most of the animals moved elsewhere, the zoo was set up with the various "guests" being assigned animal names. When the arrival of the authorities was imminent, the resourceful Antonina would play (p 178) `Offenbach's "Go, Go, Go to Crete!"' to warn those in hiding. Through their connections to both unsuspecting bad guys and other good guys willing to risk their lives for the cause, they were able to help in ways that others could not due to their affiliation with the zoo. Author Diane Ackerman's research sources consisted primarily of Antonia's writings as well as interviews of both husband and wife. The writing style she employs to tell their story gives it a very authentic feel and allows the reader to get to know Antonia Zabinski (as much as one can with thirdhand knowledge). For example, on the subject of their varied, harried schedule, "attuned" to the needs of the animals, (p 20) "This brought a slated novelty to each day, and though the problems might be taxing, it imprinted her life with small welcome moments of surprise." Additionally, one learns about both the upside and downside of their decision to help: concerns and worries about each person's safety, as well as anecdotes of the exploits employed to fulfill their mission. One of my favorite examples of the latter is a situation involving the Zabinski's son, Encountering young male "guests" in their hiding place, (p 253) Rys (meaning lynx) states his name. One of the boys, aware of the family's use of animal names, replies that his name is "Pheasant." The Zookeepers Wife provides a well-researched and written look at the lives of an unconventional family in their attempts to help the Jews. Also good: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Life in Auschwitz by Primo Levy and Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. ...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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
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  • Our Book Club Selection for November
    Dense writing you must pay attention to. Difficult subject hard to research so much is filled in. Menace is terrifying, accidents and slip-ups constant. All animals die and many people, too. Survivors are forever changed. And the ghastly news is that it actually happened. ...more info
  • Too bad the story is not a story
    I am only giving this book 3 stars because the research is fantastic and the story needs to be told. However I put the book down after merely 65 pages. The first chapter was excellent; told from the Zookeeper's Wife's point of view and well written. After that it was a mix of quotes from what I assume are diaries and historical research. I would rather read the diaries than this disjointed tale. Very disappointed as I saved this book to read on vacation....more info
  • Terrifying and moving
    The most incredible thing about this book is that it really happened. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were zookeepers at the Warsaw Zoo and were disgusted and horrified by the treatment of the local Jews by the Nazis. As the Warsaw ghetto was gradually cleared by the total annihilation of its occupants, Jan devises ways to bring them to the Zoo secretly and to hide them in the cages which were formerly occupied with exotic animals, now stolen by the Nazis and sent to Germany to fulfill Hitler's mad scheme to "purify" even the animals and to attempt to restore the ancient lines of extinct species. How Antonina managed to keep a cool exterior in the face of the savagery of the soldiers beggars belief and if, as a reader, one attempts to feel the terror of the victims in one's own imagination, I, for one, broke out in a shivering sweat of horror. These incredibly brave people deserve the accolades heaped upon them by the Jewry after the war. Diane Ackerman writes this book as seen through the eyes of Antonina, interrupting the narrative to insert explanatory excerpts, and does a magnificent job of explaining Antonina's amazing rapport with all the animals in her care. It's a masterfully written account of how a few exectionally brave people saved the lives of so many innocents at a time when Poland was ruled by an evil madman who was trying to control and reshape humans and animals to fulfill the Nazi ideal of the worship of their kind of purity in all things....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.

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  • 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
  • The Zookeeper's textbook
    The Zookeeper's Wife was an interesting piece of work. A lovely story that read like investigative or textbook writing....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
  • 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.
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  • A wonderful story
    I feel The Zookeepers Wife was a wonderful look into another side of The Holocost. Truly an inspiration.

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  • 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
  • A fantastic read!
    Whether you like animals or not, this is an amazing true story about WWII in the Warsaw Zoo. Couldn't put it down--fantastic character descriptions and events in living detail. What amazing people--very inspirational!...more info
  • faux lyricism
    This book isn't really about the zookeeper's wife. Rather, Ackerman uses the story of Antonina Zabinski as a backdrop to tell the larger story of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw and the Polish Resistance. As a story-telling technique, I have no problem with this, and Ackerman does it fairly well. We learn a lot about Warsaw during the war, as well as learning about such things as the zookeeping trade and animal life. The biggest drawback to Ackerman's use of the technique, I think, is that she starts with Antonina's memoirs, which seem to have been written very lyrically (from the short excerpts we are given), and then tries to use that lyrical tone throughout the whole book. It doesn't work very well, partly because Ackerman doesn't wield her lyricism as naturally, and partly because a war story doesn't lend itself very well to such a tone. It is an interesting story, although I think the story of the zookeeper (who was active in the Polish Resistance, fought for the Home Army in the Warsaw uprising, and was held as a POW in Germany) might have been more interesting than the story of his wife. I guess he didn't write a memoir....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
  • 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
    Very interesting story. The author has a tendency to use words that can't even be found in
    a dictionary. ...more info
  • Could have been a great book
    In another author's hands, this book could have been amazing and deeply profound. The subject matter is fascinating, and I found myself wanting to know more about the zookeepers, Jan and Antonina, and the people who passed through the zoo during World War II. The problem is that the author spent so much time describing ancillary topics, that I felt this book was very choppy and disjointed. Her ability to dramatize even the most anxious situations was completely lost. I am not sure if she was limited by the amount of information provided in Antonina's diary, but there are numerous accounts of life in the Warsaw Ghetto that she could have tapped into to tell a riveting story.

    I am frequent reader of non-fiction and especially World War II accounts, but the way this book was written makes the story drag on and become tedious at times. There were so many animals and people described in short blurbs that it became quite difficult to follow and relate to the individuals in the book. I think more time and attention should have been given to describing the Warsaw ghetto and the Underground instead of spending numerous pages listing and describing insects and other tangential ideas that had very little to do with the story.

    Overall, if you are specifically interested in the role that the Warsaw Zoo played in harboring and saving Jews, this is a decent, albeit difficult to read, account. Otherwise, I would seek out other historical accounts of the Holocaust and World War II that will be more captivating....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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.

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  • The Zookeeper's Daughter - Why You Should Not Fear Reading Non-Fiction
    The Zookeeper's Daughter is non-fiction. Most of what I read is non-fiction because oftentimes, true stories are more compelling than fiction. The Zookeeper's Daughter, well-researched, and wonderfully written, is one of the many true stories out there that should be recommended reading. Its author has woven a beautiful story out of what could have been a mundane chronological review of the subject's diaries. A page-turner, The Zookeeper's Daughter contains beautiful descriptions, believable characterizations, and a thorough understanding of what it meant to be caught in Poland during the Hitler Era. I learned a great deal about life in wartime Warsaw, and in particular, about the Polish Resistance, from reading this book. The main subjects of The Zookeeper's Daughters are compelling examples of humanity in the midst of chaos and madness, of courage in a time of darkness and despair. We often times think solely of the plight of people during war; this book will open many eyes to the perils of war for all of God's creatures. It describes the exceptional love and care that true stewards of God's creation show to animals and people alike, and their willingness to place their own lives at risk because of that love. A story that ranks up there with Schindler's List, The Zookeeper's Wife is definitely on my top five books for 2008. ...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 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.
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  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • The zookeeper's wife
    It was informative, but I had trouble staying awake. More of a documentary than powerful story....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
  • The Zookeeper's Wife
    This is a powerful read and should be required reading for all high school seniors. One must learn about the atrocities of the halocaust; remember history can be repeated.
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  • 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
    Please pardon the title of this review but I couldn't help it. I love this book not only because of its most unusual subject matter but because of what it tells us of the undaunted nature of the human spirit. During the most vicious enemy occupation in history the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, display incredible courage and determination in using the resources at their disposal (the zoo) as a place of refuge for Jews seeking escape from the hands of the Nazis. Diane Ackerman tells this true-life tale with all the literary grace and style we have come to expect from her other works. The book reads like a novel, we are caught up in the characters, and their very real story creates a page-turning plot. Yet in the midst of the danger and grim circumstances of living under Nazi occupation, Ackerman treats us to the tenderness of Antonina's love of animals and the joy that they bring in brightening the lives of the unfortunate humans in their midst.

    I had the pleasure not long ago of reviewing another book set in Poland during World War Two, the award-winning historical novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War II by Douglas W. Jacobson. Though it was written as fiction, Jacobson's dilgent research brings occupied Poland into vivid reality. Here in Ackerman's ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE we are treated to the opposite, a true story written with the all sensitivity and skill of an accomplished novelist. We live through the tension-filled days feeling Antonina's every emotion, experiencing Jan's steely pragmatism, and watching their son Rys' coming of age. We even get to play soccer with a badger.

    This is a powerful and poignant story. A MUST read for anyone even remotely interested in the period of World War Two. ...more info
  • Important reading
    When average people are confronted by extreme circumstances and respond by behaving with extraordinary compassion and bravery, their example challenges us all. The story of the Zabinski family and their efforts sheltering Polish Jews and Resistance fighters in the remains of the Warsaw Zoo during World War II is eye opening. As the Nazi regime and their heinous crimes fade from living memory, it is meticulously documented stories like this that are crucial to keeping the truth alive. The author's style is confusing at times as she begins a story, then diverts to give us a great deal of background information, and then resumes the story pages later. The paperback version is a mere reprint of the hardcover, complete with photographs and consistent pagination. ...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 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
  • An uplifting story
    The Zookeeper's Wife by Ackerman
    This is a true story based on the husband and wife caretakers of the Warsaw Zoo during WWII. It tells a great deal about the animals in the zoo and the caretakers; there is also the story of the Underground movement and the help given to remove Jews from the Warsaw ghetto by the zoo caretakers. These escapees became the guests at the main house at the zoo and were often placed in the animal houses, to hide them from the German soldiers. ...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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Profoundly moving
    This book is an emotional roller coaster. Ackerman starts out displaying her marvelous descriptive skills, setting the stage.

    "...on warm days, when the linden trees' creamy yellow tassels drugged the air with the numbing scent of honey and the rhumba of bees."

    The linden trees are mentioned throughout the book as a bit of respite and a oasis of normality.

    Ackerman's telling of the atrocities that happened in the Warsaw ghetto is strong and powerful and numbing. She counters that with the crux of the book which is the story of the bravery and creativity and survival skills of Antonina, the zoo keeper's wife, and the underground activities of Jan, her husband. Their story is surrounded by the amazing stories of the people of Poland who risked everything to save those at risk. The bravery and ingenuity and humanity wouldn't be believed if this was a book of fiction.

    I feel enriched in having read this book and having my eyes opened to their story.

    ...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


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