Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Book 39: The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. While I knew it was a true story, I still thought it would be more like a novel with a linear narrative and plot. Instead, it was written much more like non-fiction or a history book. It seems like many true stories or memoirs occasionally pick one day to start their story and then go from there. The Zookeeper's Wife never does that, and it is actually refreshing - after all, how often is it possible to pick one day in a life where everything just starts - life doesn't work like that. Rather, the first few chapters, Ackerman describes the day to day life at the zoo, based on interviews, journals and other books.

Ackerman also supplies many stats about life in the underground and the amount of effort that was necessary to help Jews and other Poles wanted by the Germans from getting caught. For every person saved, perhaps a dozen or more were involved in saving them. There were intricate nets, and somehow they managed to keep in touch with the people in the ghetto through much of it.

I enjoyed reading about this rather unique family, and all the animals and people they surrounded themselves with. I had no clue about the Nazi breeding program for animals before; in an effort to recreate the extinct animals such as auerochs and so forth, Nazis took animals from conquered countries to help with their success. Obviously I knew about the art the Nazis stole from different countries, but animals?

I am not sure if I quite agree with the title of the book, however. While Antonina obviously plays an important role supporting her husband's work in the underground and resistance, she also actively participates. Much of the family life and the reason that their place was perhaps less depressing than some other hiding places was due to Antonina's personality but I don't think she was the main character. Jan was just as prevalent in the book and the animals and the city also were rather important parts of the narrative. Perhaps, Ackerman chose the title because much of the book was based on her journals, and while Jan was in the book as much as Antonina, her voice may have been a little more prevalent.

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