The Zookeeper’s Wife: A Review

This is an encore review; it appeared earlier online.

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Author: Diane Ackerman


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. 

My review:

I was really impressed by this book. It’s the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski who hid Jews in their villa on the zoo grounds in Warsaw, Poland. Some heart-wrenching stories in there. What made it even more amazing is that it is a true story. Most of the book is taken from the diary that Antonina kept during the war, so we get a close look at how she felt. The descriptions of how fear affects you were really well done. The only thing I didn’t like about the book is that I didn’t really find out what happened to Jan and Antonina after the war or how the diary came to be found.


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