Friday, April 20, 2012

Kindred Review: The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

Love of reading (and history) runs in the family! Today, I'm featuring one of my mom's recent reads. 

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.
 [from Goodreads]

Rating: 2 out of 5 boxes

When I heard about the book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, my interest was piqued. I am intrigued by stories of people and what their lives were like in Europe during World War II. I was looking forward to reading this book because it appeared to be from a different viewpoint, a zookeeper’s family, than others I have read.

The book is taken from diaries written by Antonina, the wife of the zookeeper in Warsaw, Poland. The first two chapters of the book are used to create the setting of the zoo. I understand that the reader needs background information, but I felt that the depth with which the writer went into describing the animals and zoology was unnecessary and sluggish in a book subtitled "A War Story." I almost quit reading, thinking that the book was not as I supposed it to be about life in Nazi Poland, but I decided to read a little more. Once the story moved forward to life revolving around the war, it did become somewhat more interesting. Though much of the book just skimmed the surface, there is a section that explains Jan’s involvement with the ghetto which delved a bit deeper into the people and life at that time.

 I also understand that the book is taken from diaries, so there is limited information, but a connection never really developed with Antonina or Jan, the zookeepers. I also felt disconnected from the characters that were saved by the zookeepers. Though the viewpoint was different and therefore held its unique interests, the writing left me feeling as though I had only seen the outline of a book and I wanted to read the finished product.

Title:  The Zookeeper's Wife:  A War Story
Author:  Diane Ackerman
Genre:  History, Biography
Year:  2008
Book Source:  Received as a gift


  1. {new follower here}

    Not something I am totally interested in but thank you for sharing.


  2. Thank you for this review. I'm reading this book for book club, am about a quarter in, and really struggling. You hit the nail on the head: I'm not connecting with the characters. I keep hoping too, but sounds like that's a high expectation for this one. Interesting story. And since it's for book club I may finish. But I'm not loving it. So glad I found your site which I'll now subscribe too!