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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman

Jan and Antonina Zabinski were the keepers of the Warsaw zoo in the time leading up to the Second World War. Their zoo was bombed early in the war, but they managed to work matters so they were still in charge of the grounds and they successfully saved over 300 Jews over the course of the war by hiding them in the cages of the zoo.

I learned a lot about how Warsaw fared during WWII (not well), which I had previously not known at all. "Out of its prewar population of 36 million, Poland lost 22 percent, more than any other country in Europe."

The author wrote a relatively interesting story about an especially interesting topic: humanity during WWII. The story did not always seem to flow as a narrative. The author clearly strove to use unusual or creative verbs, but sometimes seemed to overreach. She also focussed a bit more on animal psychology than interested me.

On the whole I would recommend it to those who are interested in the history of WWII, and to those who like true stories of people remaining brave in the face of deadly danger and remaining humane in the face of brutality.


  1. It sounds like a intriguing story; I will look for it at the library.

    If you are interested in more about WWII Warsaw, you could read the book from which I found out for the first time about how it fared: Escape from Warsaw, also titled The Silver Sword, by Ian Seraillier. It is based on true events and is a heartbreaking account of siblings sticking together and struggling to survive during the war and aftermath. I am not kidding about the heartbreaking part, though. Read at your peril.

  2. Tatterjil, thank you for the recommendation. A friend recently gave us a copy of Escape from Warsaw, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I assumed it was for children, but your warning has me concerned: is it for children? Should I read it to myself first? Have you read The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum? That's a WWII children's story I love.

  3. Definitely read it yourself first. I think it could be for some children but not for others. It's very emotionally intense, but the ending is fairly happy. It's possible, actually, that it could affect the older reader more -- children from a loving family might not empathize as much with the hardship depicted.
    I have read a lot of Hilda van Stockum but not the Winged Watchman; I'll have to look that up too.