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10 thoughts on “The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

  1. says:

    What a disappointment I anxiously awaited the paperback version of this book, only to find the writing so scattered and choppy I could barely finish it The author obviously did extensive and exhaustive research, but she kept going off on so many random tangents that finding a cohesive story is impossible.


  2. says:

    one puzzle of daily life at the villa was this How do you retain a spirit of affection and humor in a crazed, homicidal, unpredictable society On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany, emboldened by the recently signed Molotov Ribbentrop pact with Stalin s Soviet Union, invaded Poland Warsaw was pummeled, then occupied With the Nazis bizarre fixation on racial purity which extended to animals and hatred for Jews, it became an existential crisis merely to be Jewish in the city Amid the carnage and daily horror, heroes emerged One of them was Antonina abi ski Antonina and Jan abi ski from PBSShe and her husband, Jan, were in charge of the Warsaw Zoo It was a labor of love Both were smitten with animals and sought not only to offer an educational experience to the people, primarily the children of Warsaw, but to take the best possible care of their charges Jan once said of Antonina Her confidence could disarm even the most hostile, he told an anonymous reporter, adding that her strength stemmed from her love of animals It wasn t just that she identified with them, he explained, but from time to time she seemed to shed her own human traits and become a panther or a hyena Then, able to adopt their fighting instinct, she arose as a fearless defender of her kind It was frequently the case that this or that animal required special care, patching up from an injury, recuperation from an illness Antonina and Jan would take them into their zoo residence, a villa, creating a very Doctor Doolittle like atmosphere Diane AckermanBut sustaining a full zoo in the middle of a blitzkrieg, and then a brutal occupation was impossible Many of the animals were taken by a Nazi officer who happened to be in charge of a zoo in Germany What was possible, though, was for Antonina and Jan to use the zoo as a refuge for those targeted by the Nazis, for Jews The complexity of the operation was significant It takes a village to save lives Antonina and Jan were not in this alone Not only did people need documentation, they needed to learn how to pass as Christian, how to behave in church, for example Some made adjustments to their appearance to appear Aryan, some by bleaching their hair And some men went to the extreme length of having a medical procedure to reverse their circumcisions Don t ask The zoo functioned as a way station where Jews fleeing the ghetto could stay until permanent shelter could be identified by other people and organizations in the widespread Polish resistance Through this ordeal over three hundred people were saved with the help of Antonina and others at the Warsaw Zoo and widespread popular support in the city Many of the people who sheltered there hid out in the now empty animal enclosures The zoo became a Noah s Ark for endangered humans Maintaining secrecy, however, was always a challenge A single sneeze, cough or whimper at the wrong moment might be heard by Nazi inspectors, and could spell doom for hundreds Jessica Chastain plays Antonina in the film from moviefactsinc.comDiane Ackerman is a poet and naturalist and she brings both sensibilities to this work, offering frequent observations about the natural environment in which the horrors depicted were being experienced She relied on Antonina s private journals for much of the story, on her published work and on Jan s books She interviewed the survivors she could find and conducted considerable research to make sure she got the details right Although this is a non fiction account, it would be easy to forget that fact, and experience reading it as if one were reading a novel.The structure of the book is mostly chronologically linear, with each of the thirty six chapters telling a small part of the overall whole What is amazing here is how, in such a dark time, there can also have been so many experiences of joy, however fleeting There is a considerable cast of memorable characters, both human and non, both good and evil One of the features of the Warsaw zoo during the Nazi occupation was that the Guests sheltering there were referred to by animal names This was so that those operating the zoo could speak of them without giving away what was going on As a counterpoint, the animals that remained, or found their way to the Zabinskis care, were given human names One spring day, Jan brought home from a pig farm that had been set up at the zoo a newborn piglet whose mother was just butchered, thinking that their son Rys might like it as a pet they named him Morys, and at two and a half weeks, Morys looked like piglet from Winnie the Pooh very clean, pink and smooth Morys lived in the so called attic of the villa, really a long narrow closet that shared a terrace with the upstairs bedrooms, and each morning Antonina found him waiting outside Rys s bedroom door When she opened it, Morys ran into his room, oinking, and started jostling Rys s hand or foot until Rys woke, stretched out a hand, and scratched Morys s back Then the pig arched, catlike, until he looked like the letter C, and grunted with great contentment, uttering a quiet noise between a snort and a creaking door There are plenty other four footed characters here, including a particularly cunning, carnivorous rabbit who learned to kiss people Johan Heldenbergh as Jan abi ski from Focus FeaturesThe Zabinskis tale also gives us a look at details of how Warsaw coped with the occupation, finding ways into and out of the ghetto once it was shut in, the subterfuges they engaged in to get fake identification papers, how they got information on what was happening in the ghetto, finding sources for food for the animals remaining at the zoo The details Ackerman presents of survival in such a place and time give it a visceral reality There is a fascinating description of egota, a resistance organization that was all about rescuing people, not killing the enemy It reminded me of the White Helmets in Syria Ackerman gives us a look at another of Warsaw s many heroes In 1940 when Jews were ordered into the Ghetto, a progressive orphanage, started by a well known author and pediatrician Henryk Goldszmit pen name Janusz Korczak moved to an abandoned businessmen s club in the district of the damned, as he described it in a diary written on blue rice paper that he filled with details of daily life in the orphanage, imaginative forays, philosophical contemplations, and soul searching It s the reliquary of an impossible predicament, revealing how a spiritual and moral man struggled to shield innocent children from the atrocities of the adult world during one of history s darkest times Reportedly shy and awkward with adults, he created an ideal democracy with the orphans, who called him Pan Doctor There, with wit, imagination, and self deprecating humor, he devoted himself to a children s republic complete with its own parliament, newspaper and court system Instead of punching one another, children learned to yell I ll sue you One might see Poland in a different light having read this There was much heroism and self sacrifice than one might have realized previously The effort to save those targeted by the Nazis involved far than a few heroic individuals It required the knowing cooperation of tens of thousands of individuals who knew that they would be killed if discovered It seems a shame, really, to note quibbles in such a book, overpowering as the story and message are, but there are a couple While there is no doubt of Antonina s heroism, she is presented without the warts that we know all people possess And not all of the chapters are all that informative Otherwise, OMG, what a story You will be reminded of other heroes of this and other wars Oskar Schindler will certainly come to mind, Corrie Ten Boom, Paul Rusesabagina of the Hotel Rwanda, and others The Zookeeper s Wife is a tale that is both radiant and uplifting, about a time and a place that epitomized the depths of human depravity The cruelties of the past remain with us in diverse forms One needs look no further than Syria and the psychotic horrors of ISIS for examples It is worth knowing that the human spirit survived the Third Reich It will survive the darkness that rests over much of the world today But it will take courage, and heroism of large and small kinds to keep those flames burning Antonina Zabinski s actions are a testament to the potential for the good and decent in us all Hopefully her example will offer an inspiration to others facing dire circumstances On September 21, 1965, Antonina and Jan Zaminski were recognized at Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.Published January 1, 2007Review posted March 31, 2017Film released March 31, 2017 EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author s personal, Twitter and FB pagesThere is a TV series, Colony, that uses a science fiction presentation to look at occupation in a near future world The inspiration is unmistakable One of the issues it addresses is that of save versus battle, late in season two Worth checking out Michling, an outstanding 2016 novel about twins in Aushwitz, includes a section where the characters arrive in Warsaw and learn how the zoo had been used A link to today s Warsaw Zoo


  3. says:

    Finally Whew I ve owned this book for than 5 years It was passed to me from our friend Steve I had planned to read it like other books a dozen times Quilty as Charged It took the Hollywood soon to be released movie to procrastinate no longer I knew much about this story but, as I said, had not actually read it myself Author Diane Ackerman has a long list of many other books she has written but this is my first time reading her It reads like fiction wish it were scary terrifying heartbreaking moments.sometimes funny..other times this story is unbelievably moving precious tenderness the way Diane writes about animals Diane Ackerman writes with as much care for the animals as she does the human characters Even about the crickets It was quite charming Zookeepers Jan and his wife Antonina had been dedicated to a special zoo even before the War not wanting the animals to be just a viewing in cages They put emphasis on wide open spaces creating natural surroundings So, right away, we have a sense that these are very special people Through Diane s writing and the voice of the wife Antonina we really feel the emotions Descriptions are vivid and the tension kept me in knots a couple of times There was no way so young a child could comprehend the network of social contacts, payoffs barter, reciprocal altruism, petty bribes, black market, hush money, and sheer idealism of wartime Warsaw A house under a crazy star helped everyone forget the crazier world four minutes, sometimes hours, at a time, by serving up the moment as flowing chain of sensations, gusts of play, focused chores, chiming voices The rapt brain state of living from moment to moment arises naturally in times of danger and uncertainty, but it s also a rhythm of remedy which Antonina cultivated for herself and her family One of the most remarkable things about Antonina was her determination to include play, animals, wonder, curiosity, marble, and a wide blaze of innocence in a household where all dodged the ambient dangers, horrors, and uncertainties That takes a special stripe of bravery rarely valued in wartime.This story is a beautiful tribute to Poland and the strength of the Polish people during the Holocaust Over 100 Jews were saved escaped and made it safe to Israel Hundreds were hidden Jan and Antonina even gave birth to a child in the middle of this war I tried to imagine and honestly it was a challenge With everything else Antonina was doing her birth was an amazing miracle Much quiet heroism so much courage Fascinating story It s the type of non fiction which reads like fiction


  4. says:

    In a sentence Someone else should have written the Zabinski s story This mess, full of purple prose adds very little to the narrative of Polish heroism in World War II Nor does it add much about the Jewish Holocaust and I simply do not know how Ackerman got the rights to the story, when so many other, better writers could have done justice to it.Based on the great reviews from some rather credible sources, I couldn t wait to read this book Wow, was I disappointed First, there were factual errors throughout, which, given the archives that are available and translators linguists to whom she could have turned, were inexcusable Several had to do with the Cichociemni clandestine special forces of which my dad was one The correct number of these was 344 transported to Poland from the U.K a number she got wrong 365 Also, 18 were lost in the Uprising not 11 Even a simple google search will give you the numbers She also got the phonetic pronunciation wrong it is cheeho chiemnee, not cheeko ch in Polish is pronounced as a simple H Any Pole who speaks the language could have told her this.There are other factual WW II things that are in error as well that others have mentioned in their reviews, so I won t belabor the issue, besides I think that this book is less about the context of WW II and about Ackerman s self indulgent poetic license OK, so Polish experience of WW II is my issue, and perhaps I am nit picking, but I am not making boatloads of money off this book and when I write my own books, my editors and I make darn sure that the facts are correct.The story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, set during the German occupation of Poland, is a truly amazing one, in which these two courageous Warsawian zookeepers demonstrated courage, brilliance, resilience, and humanity in the face of the grossest barbarism this planet has seen It is a story that is inspirational to say the least Having said that, Ackerman did not tell it well, despite her laudable attempt to bring these unsung heroes the praise and attention they well deserved Also praiseworthy was her unbundling of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from the Warsaw Uprising something that even some historians have conflated although they were separate happenings.Having said that, the story was disjointed and she went on ad nauseum on tangents with descriptions about beetles, buffalo and cows and forgot the real reason for telling this story I was expecting insight on the Zabinskis and their Guests and their feelings during this horrible experience, not a tutorial on bugs As a critical reader and writer myself, I could try to be generous and say that her interminable asides and lists were an attempt at imparting the complexity of an issue, or the obsessiveness of amassing a collection But the attempts failed Perhaps this was because the author tried to conflate poetry and prose she is a poet and did so unsuccessfully.Also, a propos of poetry, her overblown and flowery prose started to grate on me To wit In a darkness that deep, fireflies dance across eyes that see into themselves To continue Meanwhile, the brain piped fugues of worry and staged mind theaters full of tragedies and triumphs, because unfortunately, the fear of death does wonders to focus the mind, inspire creativity, and heighten the senses HUH Sorry but I don t find this poetic just schmaltzy Her writing style, full of overblown metaphors is just distracting and even exasperating at times.All in all this is an admirable and truly remarkable story and because she had access to primary sources, to Antonina s extraordinary diary, Ackerman could have done incredible justice to these characters Instead, Antonina s journal gets rather lost in long whimsical rambling passages of struggling to save the zoo during the ravages of WWII Filtered through Ackerman, I found them the characters flat and at times Antonina just plain silly Her mysticism actually drove me up the wall As did her going on and on about Polish culture and superstition Jan and Antonina were educated people like my parents They would have found the superstitions of the uneducated to be quaint at best and laughable I doubt that they would have embraced them, as Ackerman suggests Perhaps they might have found them charming But Ackerman is a mystical sort, and I think she conflates her own view of life onto these characters Also, the author s priorities were just weird She would write in great detail about playing the piano and the derivation of the piece, but she skimmed over the actual logistics of how these folks actually managed to harbor their guests and how they got to the zoo itself, or the details of how they lived once they got there THIS was important, not the details of bugs She never made clear how this underground activity was carried out.This story deserved someone with understanding, perhaps with better acquaintance with the subject at large The story is not very well told, nor are the details of the circumstances given the importance they deserve She really falls down in terms of conveying the actual suffering, terror, and horror of the German occupation and the Risings There are many books that convey this suffering well Rising 44, When God Looked the Other Way, The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, The Ice Road, Forgotten Holocaust, among others She lists Rising 44 in her bib but she couldn t have read it too carefully I was surprised to read other reviews in which readers talk about how appalled they were at the suffering and conditions, because as far as I was concerned, she did not render those well at all.If they want a real picture of WW II and what that was like for the people in Europe, there are far better stories that portray this time far accurately.


  5. says:

    I can t decide whether I enjoyed this book or not I think the idea of it is interesting than the execution It follows the true story of Antonina Zabinski and her family, caretakers of the Warsaw zoo during the Nazi occupation of Poland Diane Ackerman, being a literary writer and not an historical one, was able to provide an interesting spin on the subject matter, and I loved all of the imagery and description of Antonina s relationship with the animals and general life at the zoo However, this is still is a true story, and as such I felt the book didn t maintain enough focus on the story line and was lacking in many crucial historical details Ackerman goes off on too many completely unrelated tangents, which would be interesting if the book were longer, but it seems like she overlooked important pieces of the puzzle in favor of long descriptions of marginal players in the story She would take half a page to describe how the wind rustled the trees, and then just gloss over things like how the Germans never noticed that there were a ton of extra people living in the house, despite the fact that soldiers would pop in all the time All of a sudden I was at the endnotes and hadn t even realized that the book ended It s almost as if as she was nearing the end, someone walked into the room and said, Come on Diane, finish up so we can go to dinner There is almost no closure, just a few short and antiseptic paragraphs about what they did after the war along with a sort of epilogue of other people that were mentioned here and there in the book Ackerman describes meeting with the son in Warsaw and touring the old house, but he seems disinterested in reminiscing about their time at the zoo, but doesn t speculate as to why Here are some examples of hugely important issues that weren t really addressed Why did Jan retire so suddenly, after all his time as a zookeeper With the zoo villa playing such a large part of story, there is no mention of whether they had to move out after Jan retired Why is it that after growing up in a zoo and having a constant array of pets by his side during the whole story, Rys the son has no pets now When and how did Jan Antonina die I wouldn t necessarily say that this book wasn t worth reading, it just seemed like Ackerman focused on so many painstakingly small details throughout the book, and then suddenly ran out of paper or something.


  6. says:

    I really, really, really wanted to like this book It s the true story of a Polish couple who hid Jews at their zoo in Poland during WWII Their story itself is very heroic, but the writing style detracts from what is supposed to be the point of the book The author is frequently sidetracked with long passages of history, details about the lives of people not relevant to the story, and lengthy descriptions of nature I skipped a good two pages or so that just listed different types of beetles The timeline of the story bounces around too much, and by the end of the book, I still didn t feel a connection with the people involved They were real, living people, but I have felt much connected to fictitious characters The story of Jan and Antonina is a powerful one, but it was wasted on this book.


  7. says:

    I don t understand all the fuss If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal. Words to live by Zookeepers Jan and Antonia Zabinski run or used to run the Warsaw Zoo Shortly after Germany invaded Poland, the zoo is destroyed and most of the animals are put down Yet, somehow the zoo remains open and ready for business though that business may involve a slightly different purpose from the usual critter rescue.The Zabinski newest form of critters are Jews and other sympathizers They use their zoo as a hide away, a halfway house and a weapons stash Despite the incredibly high stakes, Antonina manages her villa chock full of her family, guests, and of course, many, many delightful animals Diane Ackerman interspersed with the cruelties of war with the joyful happenings of the zoo much to my relief There s so many terrible moments from the war that without the lightness a young badger s first stumbles and and an exuberant rabbit s tendency to steal food, I would have had a difficult time finishing such a truly exhaustive novel Audiobook CommentsJust superb Fabulous tone and inflection wonderfully done.YouTube Blog Instagram Twitter Snapchat miranda.reads Happy Reading


  8. says:

    The Zookeeper s Wife is somewhat difficult for me to review It s certainly not a bad book, but I found its passages dealing with the horrors of Germany s occupation of Poland during World War II interspersed with sections recounting cute animal shenanigans a bit hard to take, even though Diane Ackerman s telling a true story.This may be less Ackerman s fault and the fault of her source material She depends largely, it seems, on Antonina Zabinski s diary to recount the goings on at the Warsaw zoo during the war, and I get the sense that Zabinski focused on the zoo s animals and her family s pets, as well as her son s doings, than she did on the larger issues of the war in her writings It doesn t help that Ackerman s own prose too often verges on the purple, with metaphors that feel forced and many times inappropriate for telling what s largely a stark war story.The story of Antonina Zabinski and her husband Jan, and the assistance they provided to Jews hiding from the Nazis during the war, is certainly worth telling, but it may have made a better long magazine article than a full length book I also wish the tale had been told by a writer a bit restrained than Ackerman is Addendum I finally got a chance to look at the photos printed in The Zookeeper s Wife, and was a bit surprised to see that Antonina didn t look quite the way I pictured her based on Ackerman s descriptions To be blunt and I m sure I ll go to hell for saying this I thought she d be a bit hotter Before you yell at me for this, let it be known that Rose, my friend and fellow GoodReader, thought the exact same thing, and put me up to adding this to my review So if you re going to yell at me, yell at her too.


  9. says:

    How could a book that had so much potential for an incredible story let the reader down so much Reading the description of this story leads you to believe that this is an incredible untold story about Jan Antonina Zabinski They are animal lovers at heart and live for taking care of the Warsaw Zoo Poland is invaded during WWII, and suddenly the zoo disappears in front of their eyes They quietly revolt against Hitler and the Germans, by hiding over 300 Jews in the run down animal cages, and tunnels they created on their property.The story is told in an order that doesn t make sense, and in little tiny snippets of thoughts that feel random and disjointed There is no flow or sense of storytelling with this book It is so distracting to read and constantly go back and forth between the main story of Jan and Antonina, and snippets, comments, and quotes from other random people throughout this time period.


  10. says:

    This nonfiction book tells the story of Antonina and Jan, who use his position as the zookeeper to allow the zoo to be used as a safe house for up to 300 Jews during the course of the Second World War The sign of a good nonfiction for me is when it reads like fiction Unfortunately, this one fails that test It s an interesting story but is so dry I really struggled with it The author is a poet and it shows She spends an inordinate amount of words to describe settings and moments that do nothing to further the storyline Supposedly the book drew on Antonina s diary and a lot of the book reads like a transposed diary I preferred it when the author quoted directly from the diary rather than attempt to translate into third person narrative Phrases like one can picture her or according to Antonina irritated me The book is a mess of too much information about unimportant issues and not enough about what was actually happening At one point, the author talks about how the days were constantly cloudy from all the shelling but doesn t tell where or why there is shelling, given that Poland had already surrendered The author consistently goes off on tangents and then does a poor job of bringing the reader back to the point at hand So, if it isn t apparent by now, while I found this couple totally interesting, the writing bothered me I blame the editor, who needed to do a better job of making sure the book flowed from point to point, not stopped and started willy nilly It s like the writer didn t know what she wanted the book to be Research is lacking that would have made it informative Or if she wanted it to be about the story of this couple, cut all the extraneous information and stick to the story line I was constantly left wondering about issues, for example about how non Jewish Poles lived under the Nazi regime, but was given facts on what became of a beetle collection after the war It s really a lack of fluidity that was at issue Overall, I ll give this a three There was lots of interesting information and the main characters were amazing A different writer or editor could have made for a much better book.


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, LynxesWith 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