Customer Review

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Different View of WWII, October 20, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story (Hardcover)
I noticed in some reviews that people didn't like this book since it was not what they considered to be a "war story." It helps to be familiar with Diane Ackerman's other writings before reading this book. More than the usual books about the casualties of war, atrocities, death camps and human misery which we already can read volumes about, this book is about humans and animals trying to survive in situations few of us can even imagine. Sometimes, just caring for a lone rabbit could help a human survivor give one something else to think about and allow them to hold on to a shred of hope. The zoo and all its inhabitants were the family of Jan, the zookeeper and Antonina, his wife and their young son before and during most of the invasion of Poland by Germany during WWII. A daughter was born in the middle of the chaos and destruction and yet, like the zoo animals and various strays that often became comforting pets, she offered a bit of happiness in unimaginable times of suffering.

The story is woven together in Ackerman's typical style. From her descriptions I began to know and care about the animals as Antonina did. And I ended up grieving for them as well as the humans who loved and cared for them in what was a very special zoo in the heart of Warsaw before the Nazi invasion. The Warsaw zoo was a favorite of Polish families who came to spend time on the beautiful grounds and to see a variety of animals including one of the first of 12 baby elephants born in captivity. Antonina serves as midwife and describes the joy of her birth in detail. The zoo was attempting to house animals in habitats with more natural surroundings, rather than the typical viewing cages. This was the focus of Jan, the zookeeper. Antonina had a special gift for relating to animals--even thinking like them--that would bode well for her in dealing later with the German invaders. During the war they hid and saved hundreds of Jews (or those who did not look "Aryan" enough) in hidden parts of make-shift rooms often adjoining escape routes in and under their home and among the outside zoo cages left vacant by the carnage and theft of the zoo animals. In time, the underground network extended into the heart of the Warsaw ghetto in which they and many others risked their lives housing the hunted or helping them escape.

This book is not easy to read. It was so heartbreaking at times that I couldn't finish chapters without putting it down for a couple of days. It is not a complete downer. There are also hilarious incidents that made me smile as Ackerman describes some of the antics of the animals and some unusual interactions between them and their human companions. Ackerman's primary sources are the journals left by Antonina and are well documented. In the title it's called "A War Story" but it is part of the war we heard little about. Usually one thinks of war in human terms. This has a broader scope in that it includes, along with the horrible loss of human life and possessions, the vast collateral damages of war. There is a loss of habitat and flora that can't be replaced, entire species as well as animals with families, personalities and names are lost. Call parts of it anthropomorphism if you wish, but read this book keeping in mind the bigger picture of what war really costs us all. It's primarily a book about the ability and will to survive. When humans are tested to their limits, the more it seems they could adapt to "animal-like" techiques, often improved their chances. It's also a story about the incredible braveness and self-sacrifice of the Polish people themselves and about how two people and their extended family found a way to make a difference.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in

Review Details


3.7 out of 5 stars (378 customer reviews)
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:
$24.95 $19.18
Add to cart Add to wishlist

Location: Grass Valley, CA USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,192,834