Book Review – The Zookeeper’s Wife

Thanks to Telesilla Kotsi for the guest book review!

The Zookeeper’s Wife
by Diane Ackerman, 2007

The Zookeeper’s wife is another book about WWII by Diane Ackerman. The difference between this and other books concerning the Holocaust is that it is given from the perspective of a Polish person that helped Jews escape from the Nazis. Moreover, although Jan, the zookeeper, is the one who decides to hide and help Jews, eventually all the responsibility to make sure they don’t get arrested falls on the shoulders of his wife, Antonina. In this sense, the book depicts Antonina as a woman who has a gift to communicate and connect with animals. This gift was the reason why Antonina escaped arrest many times; an interesting parallelism between Germans and beasts that the author makes obvious in various parts of the book. However, it is also clear that Antonina is not a heroine who takes her life and the life of her guests in her own hands. She is a wife who always tried her best to please her husband instead.

My feelings are really mixed about the book. I think it had the potential to say a great story, a story that almost any country under the German occupation can connect with. But, the plot falls short in describing some of the main characters, i.e. Jan who leaves every day and we only get to know him through his interactions with Antonina, and Rys, the son of the couple, whose main task is to take food to their guests and play with a chicken and a bunny that remain in the zoo. Even the life and actions of Antonina seem hidden in parts where the attention is drawn to the destruction of Warsaw and the general devastation of Poland. I believe that this is a very good first novel for a teenager who knows no historical details about the WWII and needs to be introduced to the topic smoothly.

The Zookeper’s Wife became a movie this year (2017). Although the movie doesn’t do justice to all the historical research and the verbose writing of Ackerman, it is highly recommended for anyone who wants to spend an hour to understand how a couple succeeded in hiding 300 Jews in 6 years under the nose of Nazis.

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