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The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  23,397 ratings  ·  4,059 reviews
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 p ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published September 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2007)
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Lexi
Apr 22, 2008 Lexi rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
I STRUGGLED to get through this book. I ended up skimming the last thirty pages because I couldn't wait for it to be over. The author strays too much from the story line, and although it's historical, she puts too many unnecessary facts in the book. Her overdescribing nature is cloying and terribly annoying. This had the potential to be a good book, but she didn't give much to the actual, REAL LIFE story. A sore disappointment. Don't bother.
Kate
Apr 22, 2008 Kate rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: I heard her interviewed on NPR
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jenny
When I was in sixth grade I fashioned a yellow star out of felt, wrote "Jude" on it and sewed it onto a black peacoat. I have always been interested in the Holocaust and am quite well read on the subject. I have NEVER thought about the animals that were involved or the people who took care of the animals, such as zookeepers. It never even crossed my mind and I thank this book for bringing this important part of the war to my attention. I didn't care that the book was particularly well written an ...more
Toni
What a disappointment! I anxiously awaited the paperback version of this book, only to find the writing so scattered and choppy I could barely finish it. The author obviously did extensive and exhaustive research, but she kept going off on so many random tangents that finding a cohesive story is impossible.
Daniel
"The Zookeeper's Wife" is somewhat difficult for me to review. It's certainly not a bad book, but I found its passages dealing with the horrors of Germany's occupation of Poland during World War II interspersed with sections recounting cute animal shenanigans a bit hard to take, even though Diane Ackerman's telling a true story.

This may be less Ackerman's fault and more the fault of her source material. She depends largely, it seems, on Antonina Zabinski's diary to recount the goings on at the W
...more
David
This is another book exploring the lives of people living in the countries occupied by Germany during WWII. Unlike most, this was written by a naturalist, not an historian. This gives the book an interesting take on the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.
The narrative centers around Antonia Zabinski and her husband Jan. Prior to the outbreak of war, they were the caretakers of the Warsaw Zoo - a large zoo befitting the capital of Poland. The book paints a brief picture of what their life was like prior t
...more
Jen Meegan
Let me preface by saying a) I love Diane Ackerman's previous works and b) I have a deep interest in holocaust history. Therefore, I was surprised her latest book did not engage me as much as I'd hoped.

Ackerman usually tackles very broad, amorphous subjects like love, the five senses, etc. And her somewhat circular and poetic writing style is, I think, well suited to those topics. But for The Zookeepers Wife, I craved a level of linear details and specifics that I just could not find. I quickly
...more
Wanda
In a sentence: Someone else should have written the Zabinski's story. This mess, full of purple prose adds very little to the narrative of Polish heroism in World War II. Nor does it add much about the Jewish Holocaust and I simply do not know how Ackerman got the rights to the story, when so many other, better writers could have done justice to it.
Based on the great reviews from some rather credible sources, I couldn't wait to read this book. Wow, was I disappointed. First, there were factual e
...more
Barbara
Aug 07, 2009 Barbara rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Maria, Teri,Kelly and all my GR friends
There is no way that I can sit down and adequately review this book after reading it. Diane Ackerman has skillfully and beautifully written this very complex story. She is a naturalist, who has very well utilized her discipline to write this historical piece. It will remain with me for a very long time, so I must mull it over and deliberate how I can do justice to this multilayered tale. I have read many accounts of WW II, in articles and in books, but Ackerman was able to create charm, suspense ...more
Grady
'Why do we humanize animals and animalize humans?'

There are many stories that continue to come out of the WW II experience, stories of courage, love and survival in the face of near hopeless situations inflicted upon the globe by Nazi Germany, and, thankfully, biographies of heroes whose moral convictions were stronger than the destructive forces of Hitler's cadre. THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE is yet another unknown story, a true tale of survival of the human spirit pitted against what seemed to be the
...more
Annalisa
All this time I thought this was a piece of fiction and was delighted to realized it's non-fiction. There's something off about telling the story as though it were fiction, sometimes slipping into novel-style storytelling and sometimes info-dumping for pages about zoology or Polish tradition or Nazi habits in what should have been footnotes. It probably reads a little easier than straight non-fiction to stylize it that, but it left me with a longing to delve more into the details of the story Ac ...more
Nancy
I really, really, really wanted to like this book. It's the true story of a Polish couple who hid Jews at their zoo in Poland during WWII. Their story itself is very heroic, but the writing style detracts from what is supposed to be the point of the novel. The author is frequently sidetracked with long passages of history, details about the lives of people not relevant to the story, and lengthy descriptions of nature (I skipped a good two pages or so that just listed different types of beetles). ...more
Nic
I read this history because it was this year's One Book One San Diego, choice. I believe it got the vote because it is nonfiction and the other nominees (the outstanding Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Dave Eggers' What is the What) are fiction and there is a clear belief that people should not waste their time reading things that aren't true. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't subscribe to that bias. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth and I shed tears over Jonathan Froer's 9-1 ...more
Kathy
I was disappointed in this book. A great (and true) story of kindness, courage, and hope in the most horrific of times, The Zookeeper's Wife is the story of the family that ran the Warsaw Zoo during the time of the German occupation of Poland. After all the animals were killed or transplanted to other zoos, Antonina, her husband Jan, and son Rys, helped aid and shelter Jews who would certainly have been killed in concentration camps without their assistance. While the story is great, the problem ...more
Britany
How could a book that had so much potential for an incredible story let the reader down so much?

Reading the description of this story leads you to believe that this is an incredible untold story about Jan & Antonina Zabinski. They are animal lovers at heart and live for taking care of the Warsaw Zoo. Poland is invaded during WWII, and suddenly the zoo disappears in front of their eyes. They quietly revolt against Hitler and the Germans, by hiding over 300 Jews in the run down animal cages, a
...more
Chris
The Zookeeper's Wife is a micro chasm book. This means that it deals with a small event and only that small event. It does help when reading this book if you have a good, working knowledge of Europe in WWII, in particular the Warsaw Uprising. Ackerman's greatest flaw in the book is that there is not much background detail. She keeps the focus on the zoo; in fact, she seems more in love with the zoo than with the Zabinskis and their "guests".

This said, it still is a very enjoyable book. It is qui
...more
Marialyce
This was a very enlightening look into the lives of people who ran a zoo in Poland before the war. Ultimately, caught up in the turmoil of the war, they stepped forward to save hundreds of Jews as well as others by providing a house for those escaping the Nazi tyranny. Told through the letters and recollections of those involved this non fiction story gave us a look at true courage and the ability to raise above the fear that tyrants in power can place upon people. One could not but admire the s ...more
Kathryn
Unfortunately this suffered a little by me reading it after I read The Street Sweeper - they are both to do with the fate of Jews in Poland (although with other differences between the two), but the writing in The Street Sweeper was very powerful and beautiful. The writing in this, despite being a true story, is really just ordinary, which is a shame, because telling the story of how a zookeeper and his wife worked for the Polish Resistance during WWII by hiding Jews in their zoo could really ha ...more
Bruce
The Zookeeper’s Wife is a non-fiction account of life in Warsaw, Poland, from 1935 through the end of World War II as experienced through the eyes and lives of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, the managers of the Warsaw Zoo. It is based in large part on the records kept by Anthonina during this period and traces the fortunes of a city, a Polish populace, and the persecution of the Jewish citizenry during the Nazi occupation. Having spent a number of days in Warsaw a couple of months ago, I found the a ...more
Gina
Absolutely, positively hated this book. It had so much potential but the writing style was awful. I gave it another shot after seeing it was an option for World Giver Night, but I can't see how any reluctant or light reader would find this enjoyable. the Zookeeper's Wife is a war story based on a zoo in Warsaw during WWII. Rather than writing it as historical fiction, the writer chose to mix her research into it, which caused it to read like a poorly written thesis. I blame this book on why I st ...more
Wendy
The Zookeeper's Wife tells the story of the Zabinski's who manage to save others lives by hiding them away at the Warsaw Zoo during the holocaust.

Pretty much, what everybody else hated about the book I loved. I loved the detailed and eloquent descriptions of the plants, zoo, and the animals. I liked the fact that it was written by a naturalist and not a historian. In fact, I think Antonina Zabinski would love how Diane Ackerman wove together this beautiful, yet sad and tragic story. This will go
...more
taryn
This WWII account about a family of zookeepers who shelter Jews from the Nazis in Warsaw, Poland is a surprisingly uplifting description of life during the bloodiest years of the war.
lisa
This extraordinary story combines Ackerman's lovely talent for writing about nature and the amazing tale of the Jan and Antoinia Zabinski, who were running the Warsaw Zoo during WWII, where they helped hide hundreds of Jews fleeing the city. Ackerman uncovered many stories about the Underground resistance in Warsaw and describes many other courageous people in addition to the Zabinskis. She also writes about the Germans desire for not only cleansing the human race but also animal populations as ...more
Mara
This book isn't really about the zookeeper's wife. Rather, Ackerman uses the story of Antonina Zabinski as a backdrop to tell the larger story of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw and the Polish Resistance. As a story-telling technique, I have no problem with this, and Ackerman does it fairly well. We learn a lot about Warsaw during the war, as well as learning about such things as the zookeeping trade and animal life. The biggest drawback to Ackerman's use of the technique, I think, is that she sta ...more
Eliece
This is a fascinating story set in Poland during World War II. After Germany invaded Poland and the city of Warsaw was taken, the zoo became a hideout for countless Jews and underground workers. The stories are endless and interesting of what went on in that city during the war years. The book was a little hard to follow. It wanders all over the place and has many tangents. You can be reading a war experience then all the sudden be bogged down by four pages of beetle types of the history of peni ...more
Florence
Jan and Antonina were administrators of the Warsaw Zoo as World War II began in earnest with the invasion of Poland. The zoo was destroyed, many animals were killed but the zookeepers continued to live in the villa on the zoo grounds, sheltering many people who were fleeing from the Nazi rule. Most of those "guests" were Jewish people who had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto as well as Polish partisans. Both Antonina and her husband had great courage. They lived each day knowing that they might be ...more
alysa
What a wonderful story. I picked up this book not realizing that it was a true story or that it was about WWII. Ackerman has such an incredibly descriptive style that the reader truly feels as if they are there. I will have to look for more books by her. I loved the way she described every detail with all the senses. That asside this was such an emotional story about a Polish family living through the German occupation and helping to save the lives of Jews living within the Warsaw Getto. As it i ...more
Elaine
Everyone is familiar with the huge suffering caused to so many by WWII and the horrors of the Holocaust. I have read countless books on the Holocaust but this book gave me a totally different perspective. I had never ever thought of the animals that may have been affected, especially those in zoos. What befell the animals in the Warsaw zoo was truly terrible and of course not taking anything away from the huge human suffering,was awful to read about. Another aspect was the atrocities committed a ...more
Claire Caterer
During World War II, few cities were as horrific to live in as Warsaw. Seized by the Nazis in 1939, abandoned by their allies, Poland saw its capital turn overnight from a vibrant, cultural city of mixed population—30 percent were of Jewish descent—into a nightmare of German occupation. Yes, Paris and Amsterdam were occupied; London was blitzed. But Warsaw bled like no other. Its very spirit was crushed, its Jewish population herded into the ghetto, packed seven to a room. Nazi soldiers massacre ...more
JG (The Introverted Reader)
Jan and Antonina Żabiński were the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo when Germany invaded Poland. Between the bombing, Nazi cruelty, and the Nazi desire to keep all of the rare animals for themselves, there quickly wasn't much of a zoo to keep. But Jan was an ingenious thinker and he came up with various ideas to keep the zoo complex under his care. From community gardens to a pig farm to a fur farm, he always had the zoo under his control. He was deeply involved in the Polish Underground, and as part o ...more
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Book Experience: We have read several books that reference the Jewish Holocaust 1 4 Sep 15, 2013 10:48AM  
Book questions for church group. 2 71 Apr 02, 2013 03:13AM  
What Are You Read...: The Zookeeper's Wife. 3 11 Jan 30, 2012 06:01AM  
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Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the best-selling The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses. She lives with her husband Paul West in Ithaca, New York.
More about Diane Ackerman...
A Natural History of the Senses A Natural History of Love An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain One Hundred Names for Love: A Memoir The Moon by Whale Light and Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians and Whales

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“I watched her face switch among the radio stations of memory” 17 likes
“...he'd know about the role of mirror neurons in the brain, special cells in the premotor cortex that fire right before a person reaches for a rock, steps forward, turns away, begins to smile.Amazingly, the same neurons fire whether we do something or watch someone else do the same thing, and both summon similar feelings. Learning form our own mishaps isn't as safe as learning from someone else's, which helps us decipher the world of intentions, making our social whirl possible. The brain evolved clever ways to spy or eavesdrop on risk, to fathom another's joy or pain quickly, as detailed sensations, without resorting to words. We feel what we see, we experience others as self.” 9 likes
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