The Zookeeper's Wife, Diane Ackerman, W W Norton & Company, 2007, 323 pp
I had heard much about this book and was on a waiting list at the library for weeks before I got it. I was a bit disappointed but it had its high points.
It is the true story of Anonina Zabrinski and her husband Jan, Christian zookeepers in Warsaw, Poland, who formed part of the underground Resistance to the Nazis and used their zoo to help over 300 Jews escape the Ghetto. The story of German aggression and the devastation of the zoo and all of Warsaw is gruesome. I knew about conditions in the Ghetto from reading John Hersey's The Wall. Now I know even more about Hitler's insane hatred of Poland, not to mention the various attempts to rid the world of all Polish people, not just the Jews there. In that respect, it is a disturbing read.
I was annoyed by the lack of smooth continuity as the author skipped around on dates. In one paragraph it would be spring, in the next it would be winter of an undetermined year. I finally gave up trying to know what was when. The best was her portrayal of Antonina's astonishing way with animals and people. This woman had the ability to become any animal and establish a line of trust and understanding with any creature. The Nazis and the war interrupted that aspect of her life and eventually the Zabinskis lost the zoo when the Communists took over Poland after the war. But she used her gifts to help all those Jews and to safeguard them and her children by defusing many crazed soldiers and German officials. I loved reading about that.
Who knew that Hitler and his boys were also trying to bring back extinct species of animals as part of their master plan? Also that Hitler's pathological fear of illness led him on a crusade against lice which devolved into equating Jews with lice.
So The Zookeeper's Wife is another look at one of the worst decades in recent history, from which there is apparently still no escape in literature.