Summary and book reviews of The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife

A War Story

by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman X
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 368 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Chapter 8

Lutz Heck took over the Berlin Zoo from his distinguished father in 1931, and almost immediately began remodeling the zoo’s ecology and ideology. To coincide with the 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin, he opened a "German Zoo," an exhibit honoring the country’s wildlife, complete with "Wolf Rock" at its center, surrounded by enclosures for bears, lynxes, otters, and other native species. This bold patriotic display underscoring the importance of familiar animals, and that one needn’t go to the ends of the earth to find exotic species, conveyed a laudable message, and if he’d unveiled his exhibit today, his motives wouldn’t be questioned. But given the era, his beliefs, and the ultranationalism of his family, he clearly wanted to please Nazi friends by contributing to the ideal of Germany’s master races. A 1936 photograph shows Heck and Göring on a hunting trip to Schorfheide, Heck’s large preserve in Prussia; and the...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does Diane Ackerman's background as a naturalist and a poet inform her telling of this slice of history? Would a historian of World War II have told it differently, and, if so, what might have been left out?
     
  2. Reviews have compared this book to Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda. How would you compare them?
     
  3. Did this book give you a different impression of Poland during World War II than you had before?
     
  4. Can you imagine yourself in the same circumstances as Jan and Antonina? What would you have done?
     
  5. How would you describe Antonina's relation to animals? To her husband? How does she navigate the various relationships in the book, given the extreme circumstances? Is her default ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!
  • award image

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

So many stories have been written about the Holocaust. Some recount one of the few small miracles, they give us hope for humanity, and honor those who acted with compassion. Others delve into the darkest parts of the destruction, sinking the reader deep into the trenches of the violence. But The Zookeeper's Wife does both, which is what makes it so worth reading. Writing unflinchingly with equal vigor about the beauty and the ugliness, Diane Ackerman manages to re-sensitize the reader to acts of war and acts of grace...continued

Full Review (769 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Lucia Silva).

Media Reviews

The New York Times - D. T. Max
This is an absorbing book, diminished sometimes by the choppy way Ackerman balances Antonina's account with the larger story of the Warsaw Holocaust.

The Washington Post - Susie Linfield
A lovely story ....that is simultaneously grave and exuberant, wise and playful. Ackerman has a wonderful tale to tell, and she tells it wonderfully.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This suspenseful beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership.

Booklist - Donna Seaman
Starred Review. Ackerman's affecting telling of the heroic Zabinskis' dramatic story illuminates the profound connection between humankind and nature, and celebrates life's beauty, mystery, and tenacity.

Author Blurb Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
Diane Ackerman has surpassed even herself in her latest book, which is alternatingly funny, moving, and terrifying.

Author Blurb Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated
I can't imagine a better story or storyteller. The Zookeeper's Wife will touch every nerve you have.

Author Blurb Dava Sobel, author of The Planets and Galileo's Daughter
Stunning….Rarely does one read a book in which the author and the heroine are so magically matched.

Reader Reviews

J. Arnold

Copiously Researched
The beauty in Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife lies in her attention to detail. She tells the story of Jan and Antonia Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife, during the Polish Occupation during WWII, with beautiful prose that ...   Read More
Cloggie Downunder

A fascinating true story.
“One of the most remarkable things about Antonina was her determination to include play, animals, wonder, curiosity, marvel, and a wide blaze of innocence in a household where all dodged the ambient dangers, horrors, and uncertainties. That takes a ...   Read More
A Bookshelf Monstrosity

Zookeeper's Wife
Ackerman pulls from Antonina Zabinski's extensive memoirs of her experiences in World War II Poland and from her own research on the topic to tell the story of the hundreds of Jews that passed through this particular stop on the Polish Underground. ...   Read More
This Book Is Not Good

Do Not Read This Book
I'm going to be a freshman in high school and I had to read this book for the summer. I HATE this book. All my friends have to read it too and they all hate it. My friends mom read it and she didn't like it either. So I do not recommend this book to ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Janusz Korczak

Tucked into The Zookeeper's Wife is the equally myth-like story of Janusz Korczak (photo). A friend of the Zabinksis', Korczak was a Polish writer and pediatrician who founded a progressive orphanage for boys and girls in Warsaw in 1912. He had a popular radio show, enjoyed by both children and adults, and his children's book, King Matt the First, is known as well in Poland as Alice and Wonderland or Peter Pan is in the States. Korczak insisted on the importance of respecting and listening to children, believing that parents, caregivers, and instructors could do best by learning from them. He insisted that the role of the parent was not to impose a set of behaviors or expectations on a child, but rather that the child should ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Diane Ackerman

If you liked The Zookeeper's Wife, try these:

  • The Women of Chateau Lafayette jacket

    The Women of Chateau Lafayette

    by Stephanie Dray

    Published 2021

    About this book

    An epic saga from New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy.

  • Father of Lions jacket

    Father of Lions

    by Louise Callaghan

    Published 2021

    About this book

    Father of Lions is the powerful true story of the evacuation of the Mosul Zoo, featuring Abu Laith the zookeeper, Simba the lion cub, Lula the bear, and countless others, faithfully depicted by acclaimed, award-winning journalist Louise Callaghan in her trade publishing debut.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Code Breaker
    The Code Breaker
    by Walter Isaacson
    What makes humans human? It's a mystery that has inspired philosophers and driven scientific ...
  • Book Jacket: Genesis
    Genesis
    by Guido Tonelli
    Popular science books represent an important niche in non-fiction. They build a bridge between ...
  • Book Jacket: Buses Are a Comin'
    Buses Are a Comin'
    by Charles Person, Richard Rooker
    Charles Person was just 18 years old in 1961 when he became the youngest of the first wave of '...
  • Book Jacket: Firekeeper's Daughter
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Angeline Boulley's young adult novel Firekeeper's Daughter follows 18-year-old Daunis — ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Girl in His Shadow
by Audrey Blake
The story of one woman who believed in scientific medicine before the world believed in her.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Theater for Dreamers
    by Polly Samson

    A spellbinding tour-de-force about the beauty between naïveté and cruelty, artist and muse.

  • Book Jacket

    Crossing the River
    by Carol Smith

    A powerful exploration of grief that combines memoir, reportage, and lessons in how to heal.

Who Said...

The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

F A C Starve A F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.