Friday, July 4, 2008

The Zookeeper's Wife - Diane Ackerman

For some crazy reason, when I requested this book from the library, I thought it was historical fiction. But it is actually non-fiction. Diane Ackerman pieces together the life of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Polish Christian zookeepers, from Antonina's diary and other historical sources. This husband and wife team managed to save over 300 people during World War II by temporarily hiding them in the zoo and then moving them out to safe hiding places.

The main focus of the book is on the Zabinski's but Ackerman also veers away from this family and presents a lot of outlying facts concerning the war, Warsaw, and other individuals. It does not read like a memoir or like a diary. It leans more toward a reference book or a text book. While the diary was a source of information for the book, only small segments are reproduced here.

While I have read many accounts of people's experiences during World War II, this was a unique perspective for me. This was primarily through the eyes of the Christians in Poland, Warsaw specifically. Jan Zabinski was active in the Warsaw underground during this time, and while the Poles were definitely not treated as poorly as the Jews, they were second-class citizens (at best) in the eyes of the Germans. The Zabinskis were creative in the ways they came up with to be of use to the Germans. This in turn allowed them the ability to hide and aide many Jewish people.

Being that animal-lover that I am, it was extremely difficult for me to read about what the Germans did to the animals of the zoo. How a group of people could have had such utter disregard for human and animal life is astonishing to me. The hate these people were able to harbor is so mortifying.

While the book wasn't what I was expecting it to be. I did enjoy the experience and have broadened my understanding a little more for this time period and the people affected by it.


nancy July 4, 2008 at 9:13 PM  

Hi, Enjoying reading your take of this since I just read some chapters of it via the BOOKS A MILLION email list & am wondering if Antonia's diary is
available to read (in English)...any idea ?I'm requesting the book from my local library. thanks . Nancy in NJ
ps-Happy 4th, the fireworks are going off by my house right now!!

Jen July 5, 2008 at 7:03 AM  

Hi Nancy,
According to Ackerman, Antonina wrote her memoirs based on her own diary, so the diary I don't think is available. In the bibliography of The Zookeeper's Wife there are two listings for works by Antonina, but neither are in English, so I'm not sure if those are available in English somewhere or not.

nancy July 5, 2008 at 2:09 PM  

Jen , I found an informative interview
w/ Ackerman at , a public radio website which explains that she
had to locate a translator. You may want to listen to the interview. nancy

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