"The Zookeeper's Wife" was a book that was highly-endorsed by a gentleman in our book club and selected for our February read. Really, all I knew was that it was story about WWII, and assumed it was fiction.
After nearly a disc of listening, it dawned on me that this was NOT fiction but a true story! When it comes to WWII, I actually prefer the true stories because there are so many, and they generally are bigger, bolder and more horrendous than anything that can be imagined.
Synopsis: In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, one of the casualties of the bombing was the Warsaw Zoo. Many of the exhibits were destroyed, along with some of the animals. But the zookeeper and his wife, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, did not abandon it. Instead, they chose to remain there with their young son Ryszard, protecting the remaining animals and collecting a Noah's Ark of wayward creatures, such as lynx cubs, a badger, an Arctic Hare, a pig, and otters.
And hiding and smuggling Jews under the protection of the Underground movement.
A story that is bigger than life, we are told of Jan, who was the mastermind of the dozens of ways Jews could be smuggled out the ghetto, of his determination to fight back, of taking chances. Antonina was the nurturer of all living things, human and animal, and courageous in her own quiet way, maintaining even during the worst times the spirit of merriment for those under her care. Through Antonina's diaries, we experience the day-to-day struggles through her eyes, experience her fears and frustrations.
Setting itself apart from all the other WWII novels, "The Zookeeper's Wife" not only appeals to our yearning for stories of hope and the human spirit, but also includes the role of the animal kingdom into the effort to survive.
My thoughts: If there was ever a book written just for me, this would be it. If I thought I'd heard it all, I was wrong. I was equally enchanted and horrified at how animals...even INSECTS...played a part in the Jewish underground resistance.
The stories about the various ragtag group of animals living with the Zabinski's were adorable...and heartbreaking. I loved hearing about the adventures of the pet pig who liked to play chase, or the Arctic hare that turned carnivore in order to adapt and liked to give kisses. Not all the stories of the animals turned out happy though, and this ripped my heart to pieces. I was truly moved by the idea of man and beast, side by side, doing whatever they must to survive.
The Jews that the Zabinski's aided were also touching. A sculptor, a fox farmer, mothers and children, each with a story and each given a chance at life because of the Zabinski's determination and bravery.
A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this audio was Suzanne Toren. I've not experienced her work before, but she did a good job at managing the German and Polish accents. However, I found her voice to be cold and fairly unemotional, maybe even harsh, which was unfortunate. I believe this book had all the potential to be a five-star read for me, all things considered. Instead, it kept the material at a distance. While I tried to close my eyes and imagine the words without the impact of the voice, I just couldn't do it. I found myself more moved overall by reading summaries and reviews on Amazon. I would definitely recommend reading this one in print.
4 out of 5 stars