Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman

Jan and Antonina Zabinski filled their bright house with laughter, scampering baby animals, and tinkling piano music. Beyond the house stretched the Warsaw Zoo, where Jan was the caretaker, and every day the sounds of elephants, monkeys, macaws and other exotic animals drifted through the air. But the Nazis brought war to Poland, and the zoo was devastated. The Zabinskis reacted with unusual courage, drawing upon their conviction that both humans and animals deserved more than the occupiers believed. The Zookeeper's Wife chronicles the true story of their brave efforts, which would ultimately help more than three hundred people survive the Nazi horrors.

Diane Ackerman is an author of both non-fiction and poetry, but I think it is her poet's sense that most strongly imbues this book. If you're looking for a straightforward narrative, this is probably not your story. Ackerman leaves out key details (like how old the Zabinski's son Rys is at the start of the war), and sometimes neglects to follow a storyline to the end. But if you're looking to learn more about the people that experienced the cruelties of Nazi occupation and the depth of strength they brought to bear in their resistance, this is a great read. Ackerman clearly loves Antonina, the title figure, and brings her to life for us with deft prose. She and her husband were remarkable and inspiring individuals, and I think we are better off for knowing them.

Image is of an elephant from the Warsaw Zoo in 1938, courtesy of WikiCommons.

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