Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Favorite Reads: The Zookeeper's Wife

My Favorite Reads is hosted by At Home With Books. Each week I am featuring one of my favorite reads from the past. May is Jewish-American Heritage Month so all Favorite Reads this month go with this theme. This week's book is The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman

Summary (from the publisher, via GoodReads.com):A true story as powerful as Schindler's List in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

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, lynxes.

With 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.

Why I chose this book:
I liked this okay, but I felt it held me at arm's length. I feel the author had read about and absorbed all the news in the last few years about nonfiction works that had a lot of errant facts, badly done research, creative license with details, etc., and she over corrected. I'm glad she did as much research as she did but it wasn't always well-integrated into the narrative and often led to a feeling of distance and an inability to really connect with the characters. It was a fascinating story about a little-known aspect of WWII (A zoo in Warsaw which after the war began was left to the wife to run as a way station for Jews escaping the ghetto, en route to more permanent hiding places.) But it just never grabbed me.


Laurel-Rain Snow said...

This sounds intriguing...I had no idea from the title what it was about!

Mine is here:


Jeane said...

It sounds like a really intriguing book. I never thought about what happened to zoos during wartime.

Alyce said...

I read this one before I started blogging and I really liked it. I sometimes wonder if I would read with a more critical eye now.