Daniel's Reviews > The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
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Oct 20, 09

bookshelves: 2009
Read in October, 2009

"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 Warsaw zoo during the war, and I get the sense that Zabinski focused more on the zoo's animals and her family's pets, as well as her son's doings, than she did on the larger issues of the war in her writings. It doesn't help that Ackerman's own prose too often verges on the purple, with metaphors that feel forced and many times inappropriate for telling what's largely a stark war story.

The story of Antonina Zabinski and her husband Jan, and the assistance they provided to Jews hiding from the Nazis during the war, is certainly worth telling, but it may have made a better long magazine article than a full-length book. I also wish the tale had been told by a writer a bit more restrained than Ackerman is.

Addendum: I finally got a chance to look at the photos printed in "The Zookeeper's Wife," and was a bit surprised to see that Antonina didn't look quite the way I pictured her based on Ackerman's descriptions. To be blunt -- and I'm sure I'll go to hell for saying this -- I thought she'd be a bit hotter. Before you yell at me for this, let it be known that Rose, my friend and fellow GoodReader, thought the exact same thing, and put me up to adding this to my review. So if you're going to yell at me, yell at her too.
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Reading Progress

09/30/2009 page 40
10.87%
10/01/2009 page 78
21.2% 2 comments
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Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose I made myself a note from one of the first 3 CDs, "Goering - silk shirt". Absolutely cannot remember what this pertains to. Can you listen out for me and let me know, when you get to this? I will have to write less cryptic notes to myself in future.


Daniel Sure, no problem. I'm starting on this book either today or tomorrow at the latest. I'll see if I can figure out your bizarre note. I'm going to guess it's related to your usual "things I learnt from this book" list. (That always stands out to me because of the Britishism "learnt." Heh.)


message 3: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose Heaven only knows. The following note is about worm anaesthesia.


Daniel I believe I found your answer: Goering apparently enjoyed dressing up in medieval costumes, including voluminous silk shirts, and carrying a spear around with him. As for your second note, while the Nazis had no problem doing experiments on Jews without the use of painkillers, one scientist apparently was dressed down by a superior for not giving worms enough anesthesia before dissecting them.


message 5: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose Yes, I remembered what the worm one was. That's a hard one to forget. I'm not sure why I thought the silk shirts were particularly important, though.


message 6: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Oct 01, 2009 07:46AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Daniel wrote: "As for your second note, while the Nazis had no problem doing experiments on Jews without the use of painkillers, one scientist apparently was dressed down by a superior for not giving worms enough anesthesia before dissecting them."

Fuck. Never heard that before. Part of me feels like this shouldn't be shocking (we're talking about Nazis after all), but still, how awful.


message 7: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose It's those little things that really bring home the horror, I often find.


message 8: by Kasia (new)

Kasia Hymm yeah, I've seen this book around but I never was too tempted to read it. The animal thing seemed to cutes and silly, and you've just confirmed my suspicions.

If you're looking for something good about Poland and Jews and Nazis. I can recommend: The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman, Medallions, Hanna Krall, Tadeusz Borowski, Leon Kruczkowski... There's a lot of it, but I know it might be hard to come by.


Daniel I have a Tadeusz Borowski book I've been meaning to read, Kasia. Thank you for recommending that and the others. I shall start looking for them.


message 10: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose As usual, you capture my thoughts about the book better than I can. Can I get a bulk discount on your opinions?


Daniel Rose, you are far too kind, and you can have my opinions for free. I'd give them to you even if you don't want them, after all.


message 12: by Jen (new)

Jen No. I agree with you. All women should be hotties. Me included. Let's hope it happens.


Daniel No, no, no, Jen! I didn't say she should've been hot, but rather that Ackerman made it sound like she was.


message 14: by Jen (new)

Jen Oh yes. I understand. You didn't care if Antonina was hot, just that the author shouldn't have made it seem so and then include that picture for proof.

I'm teasing you. Everyone knows you are above reproach. DavidK said so! :)


Daniel What I'm trying to say, Jen, is that I often flip through World War II books looking for photos of hot babes, and this one failed me.

Am I still above reproach now?


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Daniel wrote: "What I'm trying to say, Jen, is that I often flip through World War II books looking for photos of hot babes"

Once again, I feel less alone in the universe, thanks to Goodreads.


message 17: by Jen (new)

Jen Only slightly Daniel. Contrary to what MFSO might say, everyone does that (look for hot babes in WWII books). Duh.

Lookit.




Daniel Rowr! Check out them gams! Hubba hubba!


message 19: by Dave (new)

Dave Russell I'd like to annex her Sudentland!


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio What I wouldn't do to be that pelt...


Lynette What an extremely shallow observation for both you and Rose.


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