Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Zookeeper's Wife - Diane Ackerman (Audio)

"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    


  

16 comments:

bermudaonion said...

You're right, there are so many amazing true stories from World War II, there's not a lot of need to make any up. This sounds like a wonderful book.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds really good. I agree though it is amazing how much difference it can make to find the right narrator!

caite said...

WWII and Poland...how could you not like it?

JoAnn said...

Hurray - I have a print copy on my shelf! I found it at the library book sale a couple of summers ago... now I just need to work it into the schedule. Thanks for the review, Sandy.

Anna said...

I found a copy of this book at a library sale awhile back. You've made me really excited to read it. Hope I can fit it in soon. I'm a sucker for WWII fiction, but you're right that the true stories are always more interesting and fascinating.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I agree, I prefer nonfiction from WWII. The Book Thief would be the obvious exception to that, but usually the true stories are even more powerful!

Zibilee said...

Oh, you have me so excited about this book now! I love animals and moving true stories of WWII, so I think this would be an excellent read for me, though I will take your advice, and look for this one in print. Very wonderful review today!

Sim said...

Sounds really fascinating! It's amazing how World War II continues to deliver compelling stories, both fiction and nonfiction. Have you read Sarah's Key about the round up of Jews in Paris? You probably have, and there's also a movie based on the book. It's historical fiction at its best, based on a really disturbing incident.

Ti said...

The animals have found you again. LOL.

Melody said...

A book about WWII and animals, and what's more it's a true story! Gotta check it out!!

Marg said...

I have had this book on my TBR list for the longest time! Off to check the library catalogue to see if they have it!

Jenny said...

I used to have this book, and I think I ended up donating it to the library without reading it. I'm super interested after reading your review, though, so I may have to get it from the library, LOL.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I was all excited about this one when it first came out (had to have been a few years ago?) and had forgotten all about it until your review. Onto the list it goes...

Jenners said...

So this is a novelized version of a true story? There are so many WWII stories out there to be told. This sounds like a good one.

Trisha said...

I really enjoyed this one, so thanks for reminding me of it!

Melissa said...

Maybe I didn't give this one enough of a chance, but I thought it was dry and felt very detached from the whole story....I don't think I even made it halfway through.