The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I read The Zookeeper’s Wife after seeing the movie trailer. It seemed as though the book would be a fascinating read.
Sadly, I wrong.
First off, I was confused by the book I was reading. I originally believed it to be fiction, for some reason. I knew the movie was based on a novel, wasn’t sure if it was a true story.
As I started reading the book, I realized it was actually probably a non-fiction? I wish I had known that before beginning the book, as I would have lowered my expectations. (I have read excellent non-fiction books, but generally they are on a different level of writing that your standard historical fiction.)
So I settled myself into the fact that this was actually a biography of sorts, but then I began to become even more annoyed with the fact that author apparently decided it was important to fluff out entire chapters with zoological tidbits instead of writing about the actual historical figure, Antonina Z.
In a quick summary: Antonina and her husband Jan lived through the Nazi/German occupation in Warsaw, using their zoo as a stop for the Underground which concealed and kept Jews and other wanted persons safe until the end of the war.
Frustratingly enough, the book rarely actually delves into what happened. It seemed as though the writer was almost taking liberties writing about what she *thought* Antonina’s state of mind would have been during those times. She also digressed into talking about random Jews and what ended up happening to them–and these are people who one has no idea WHO they are or why they were included in the book.
The potential to write a fantastic book about Antonina was sadly thwarted by the author’s flights of fancy into descriptions of animals and their lives, instead of focusing on Antonina and her family. There is very little description of EXACTLY how the zoo was run as a stopping point for the resistance.
Admittedly there were some very interesting parts to the book, especially when the author explained about the lives of Jew living underground, but I feel that the story of the Zabinskis suffered and was neglected due to these useless tangents.
At the end of the book, I had a small realization of why the author chose to inject all these other seemingly useless and random information in her work. She described meeting Antonina’s son Rys in Warsaw years later and she asks him questions about his mother, but he does not have answers. He cannot remember as he was a young boy at that time…and certainly he would not have a grasp of the machinations of the zoo with an adult mindset.
So I believe that the author was simply unable to procure enough research to write a well informed enough book. If you want to attempt reading a WWII biography, I highly recommend Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. In fact, the thought flitted through my mind while reading–that I wished Hillenbrand had written this book as I believe she would have done it more justice.
2/5, wouldn’t attempt read it again.