MLA Platinum Award Press Release

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

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Diane Ackerman

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

  • The Volunteer jacket

    The Volunteer

    by Jack Fairweather

    Published 2020

    About this book

    Winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award. The incredible true story of a Polish resistance fighter's infiltration of Auschwitz to sabotage the camp from within, and his daring escape to warn the Allies about the Nazis' true plans for a "Final Solution."

  • Father of Lions jacket

    Father of Lions

    by Louise Callaghan

    Published 2020

    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 Readalikes 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!

Support BookBrowse

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

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    Crossings
    by Alex Landragin
    Crossings is a beautiful, if slightly messy, time-bending debut. It reads like a vampire novel, sans...
  • Book Jacket: Pew
    Pew
    by Catherine Lacey
    A quote often attributed to Leo Tolstoy states that "All great literature is one of two stories; a ...
  • Book Jacket: Waiting for an Echo
    Waiting for an Echo
    by Christine Montross
    Dr. Christine Montross had been a practicing psychiatrist for nearly a decade when she decided to ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Flight Portfolio
    by Julie Orringer
    At once a sweeping historical narrative, an insightful character study and a tender romance, Julie ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Woman Before Wallis
    by Bryn Turnbull

    The true story of the American divorcée who captured the Prince's heart before Wallis.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    He Started It
    by Samantha Downing

    A new thriller from the twisted mind behind the mega hit My Lovely Wife.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Every Bone a Prayer
by Ashley Blooms

The the story of one tough-as-nails girl whose choices are few but whose fight is boundless.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Every Bone a Prayer

Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms

A beautifully honest exploration of healing and of hope.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T Real M

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.