Time to catch up on some book reviews! I have been reading and putting books on hold at the library so much. But for this book, I took a break from YA and fiction even to read a historical story I will remember.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by poet Diane Ackerman is the non-fiction story of Antonina Żabińska, the Warsaw, Poland zookeeper’s wife, during World War II. Based upon Antonina’s diary and other research, naturalist Ackerman paints the tremendous story of an unlikely heroine’s care for refugees and animals during the world’s most darkest time.
Ackerman, as the poet that she is, paints a rich description of not only the environment of living during the war in Warsaw but the emotions of the zoo itself. I’ll admit I’d never even thought about what happened to animals during the war much less exotic ones. I came away from the book with a greater appreciation of them – almost caring more for them than the protagonist! One is definitely able to become lost in the beautiful words Ackerman uses. Learning the history was very informative and interesting, although I didn’t feel it was as complete as it could have been.
If you are not into reading about facts and history, you may not enjoy this book. I couldn’t decide whether I liked her style of going back and forth between research and the “made up” stuff (filling in the gaps of the diary as there obviously were), all the while including quotes from the journal. It reads like a history book in that she provides a plethora of background information (the Ghetto and a few of the famous people the Żabińskas come into contact with, to name two examples).
What I did not enjoy was the extreme focus on this background information as well as the descriptions of the animals. I never really understood the wife the story was supposedly about. It didn’t read like a story or a bibliography, and I honestly have no idea what the characters were like. It not only continually lost its focus on Antonina Żabińska but failed to give a complete picture of any character or setting featured. The diary quotes were not enough. Overall, it lacked the emotion I was expecting to feel.
I won’t give spoilers in regards to the ending, but I didn’t much like the post-war details either. Honestly, the details and people Ackerman chose to focus on were seemingly random. As a reader, I wanted to know the facts about how they went about harboring Jewish people in their zoo, but I really couldn’t tell you after having finished the book. She pays a little too much attention to beetles, artists, politics, and superstitions, etc.
Overall, I’m happy for Ackerman’s fulfilling journey to Warsaw to visit the places that may be still there. She still writes beautifully, and now I have more emotions for animals I suppose? But maybe I should return to her poetry and leave the history writing for the historians.