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Book Reviews of The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
The Zookeeper's Wife A War Story
Author: Diane Ackerman
ISBN-13: 9780393333060
ISBN-10: 039333306X
Publication Date: 9/8/2008
Pages: 368
Rating:
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 307

3.5 stars, based on 307 ratings
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

38 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 102 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 15
(This is an excerpt from my review. For the complete review please visit www.age30books.blogspot.com.)

For those who have not yet heard of this book, its the true story of the wife of the Warsaw Zoos keeper during WWII. Most of the zoo's animals were killed during the bombing but with the help of the Polish Underground, the zoo became a haven for more than 300 Jews escaping the Nazis. Wait! Dont stop reading here just because you cant take any more Holocaust books! This book is amazing!

Although this book is about WWII, Jewish people, and the Holocaust, the focus is NOT on the people being saved (or what they were being saved from) but rather on the everyday life of one family doing the saving.

Author Diane Ackerman is a poet and a naturalist, a combination which gives this book a unique style. The research she did is apparent on every page and it makes for a fascinating read. This is a non-fiction book so dont expect a historical fiction novel here.* This book is chock full of fascinating facts. Some seemed obvious once I read them, others Id never have guessed.

I really and truly loved this book. It kept my attention, taught me any things, and was an enjoyable read. I highly recommend this book.
Chocoholic avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 291 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 13
I had this book on my TBR pile for a long while now because I didn't want to be depressed by reading a depressing Holocaust-era book. This book is completely not what I was expecting! It's funny, it's sad, it's cute, it's horrifying, and very much enlightening. It has a lot of nature, and animal anecdotes interspersed with the history of Poland and how all of these elements fit together. I would highly recommend this book!

It also has pictures and a reading club guide in the back.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 412 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 12
I fully expected to love this book. I am a big reader of Holocaust literature (I am the daughter of a survivor)and this was well-reviewed and highly recommended by others. But I didn't, and I'm not sure why. The author's writing is gorgeous; her descriptions of colors, smells, shapes are almost erotic in their intensity. Her tales of animals are astounding. BUT---I was a bit bored. Perhaps it was the emphasis on the minutiae of day-to-day life under hideous conditions. I did finish it, but nearly put it down towards the end. I feel guilty as I write this!
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 7 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 10
I have to admit that I didn't love this book. I expected to like it because it sounds like a really interesting story but the writing style was just not for me. It used six words where 2 would do, and the extra words didn't help to paint a picture of the scene or anything else that I felt was enhancing. It was also full of cliches and trite phrases that I found that parts of the story got lost in the writing.
Ladyslott avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 113 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 9
This book was such a disappointment for me. I usually like books about WWII and of those people who risked their own lives to save those being persecuted by the Nazis. Unfortunately this book left me cold. I had no connection at all with any of the characters, from the rescuers to the rescued. I read the entire book just wishing it was over.

During the time of the German invasion of Poland, Antonina and Jan Zabinski harbored hundreds of Jews and members of the Polish underground for as little as a few nights to several years. Risking their own lives and those of their children they provided refuge in their home and in the various cages of their former zoo. All in all an admirable and truly remarkable story. However Ackerman would go into detail about the playing of one song on the piano and glide over many of the logistics of this incredible charade. It is never made clear exactly how this subterfuge was carried out, and one never feels close to any of the people in the book. The writing is either so dry it is like choking down crackers or so overblown it is like smothering in verbosity. I read another book about WWII just after this one, and the difference was remarkable. I really wish the Zabinski story could be told by a more gifted writer, this book had the sensation of a distant look back, without any warmth or true feeling.
carma avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 7 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I really tried with this book. I can't put my finger on what I didn't like but I just could not get into it. Every time I picked it up my mind would wander somewhere else..
miss-info avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 386 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
The author put so much work into being historically accurate and getting the details absolutely correct that at times it reads a little too much like a documentary. However, the subject matter is very interesting, both the history of Poland during WWII and the story of the zoo's many inhabitants, 4-legged and 2-legged. Those who love animal stories will find them from beginning to end, but will also be saddened by the many, many deaths in the book. Those who love stories of the Jewish underground and Polish resistance will love this book as well; of the 300-some Jews to pass through the zoo, only two did not survive the war. The featured zoo-keeping family also survives intact; it is their dairies and post-war interviews that supply the facts for this book.

If you liked this book because of the animals, I recommend Elephants in the Living Room, Bears in the Canoe. If you read it for the historical aspect, I recommend The Hiding Place, and also the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. Irena gets a good mention in this book, and many of the scenes described in the book are seen in the movie.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 102 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
(This is an excerpt from my review. For the complete review please visit www.age30books.blogspot.com.)

For those who have not yet heard of this book, its the true story of the wife of the Warsaw Zoos keeper during WWII. Most of the zoo's animals were killed during the bombing but with the help of the Polish Underground, the zoo became a haven for more than 300 Jews escaping the Nazis. Wait! Dont stop reading here just because you cant take any more Holocaust books! This book is amazing!

Although this book is about WWII, Jewish people, and the Holocaust, the focus is NOT on the people being saved (or what they were being saved from) but rather on the everyday life of one family doing the saving.

Author Diane Ackerman is a poet and a naturalist, a combination which gives this book a unique style. The research she did is apparent on every page and it makes for a fascinating read. This is a non-fiction book so dont expect a historical fiction novel here.* This book is chock full of fascinating facts. Some seemed obvious once I read them, others Id never have guessed.

I really and truly loved this book. It kept my attention, taught me any things, and was an enjoyable read. I highly recommend this book.
crackabook avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on
Helpful Score: 3
This story starts in Warsaw, Poland a few years before the second world war. The information that you receive in the first couple of chapters sets the stage for what is to come, I mention this because one may have a tendency to want to stop reading the book due to the mundane first chapters and the thought of "when will the book really begin thinking" that came over me. I was glad however that I stuck it out because the story does take off then into one of measured interest. There are some interesting facts of history along the way for the trivia buff. Read on and be nicely delighted with an easy, quick read.
Judyh avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 211 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This is one of the most compelling stories I've read in 2009. This book is the San Diego selection for the "One Book One San Diego" program for this year. It is the amazing true story of a family that saves the lives of many people in Warsaw, Poland during WWII. Ackerman's writing is compassionate and detailed; she gives us an excellent feel for the daily life of these people and also of the animals at the zoo. She uses many sources for her reference and clearly researched it all very well. A wonderful book to give as a gift, over and over. If you liked this story, try "A Thread of Grace" by Mary Doria Russell.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 25 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A wonderful story with so much woven into the telling.
From animals, to food, to people to suvival.
I hated when it ended.
IlliniAlum83 avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 166 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A different take than other WW2 memoirs/bios-- Even if you've read about Poland during the German occupation, this one will be quite eye-opening! The Polish zoo operators in Warsaw, though bombed out and the animals dead, escaped, or borrowed for German zoos, manage to find creative ways to stay open-- hosting family gardens, raising pigs to feed the German soldiers, and finally becoming a 'fur" farm to add fur to German uniforms during the cold winters!
Ackerman makes good use of the diaries of the zookeeper's wife, Antonia. The numerous diaries provide first hand memories of how their rag-tag extended 'family' managed thru years of occupation. And to my surprise they had meat, milk, electricity etc through most of it!
The Zabinski family, through their excellent reputation as animal scientists, manage not only to temporarily hide up to 300 Jews on the zoo grounds, but Jan takes a top position in the Underground Army while still having unusual access to the Warsaw Ghetto where he invents ways to sneak Jews out to safety.
Interspersed with stories of the many family pets and the artists in residence at the villa on the zoo grounds, there is little of the usual downheartedness one experiences in reading most books from the Holocaust era.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 77 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I enjoyed Diane Ackerman's *A Natural History of the Senses* a couple of decades ago and thought this might be a good read with a lot of detail, and it was. The material is compelling--a recreation of the WWII days of the family in charge of the Warsaw Zoo, showing how the Underground worked throughout the city and country but especially in this odd locale. Ackerman is a researcher and a list-maker but not a novelist-type narrator, so there are jumps and holes through this work, as when she tells us that the mother and two small children also have a mother-in-law and some other women and children with them on an escape from Warsaw at the end of the war, but in the ensuing details the impression is given that it is just the mother and two small children, except when one of the anonymous others is mentioned. I understand Ackerman's not wanting to go beyond the historical details she has, but she does so elsewhere, and the result is not satisfying to those of us who are used to really fine novels and historical accounts.

Nevertheless, this is an important story to know, and she tells it with satisfying detail. What a wonder, to think of people hiding in the zoo animals' cages just steps from a German Army installation! I had not been particularly familiar with the fate of Poland through the War, and this book has done a lot to help me understand how an Underground works, and how there was not so absolute a dividing line between the ghetto and the city, the Jews and the Gentiles.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 1146 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I loved this read even though it is a sad and tragic story. Ackerman enlightens readers about life in Poland under Nazi invasion and occupation. Jan and Antonina Zabinski are in charge of Warsaw's large, innovative and much loved zoo. The horrific invasion crushes the city and the zoo. Horror changes from fear of being bombed to fear for life when Germans occupy the city and the country. Many surviving animals are stolen while others shot for sport, but what about people? The zoo's purpose changes again and again but one primary goal continues - to save as many people as possible.

I am amazed with the Polish resistance to Nazi rule. It is so inspiring. They were so innovative that they found dozens of ways to thwart Nazi rule and according to the author had the best organized resistance in Europe. From underground work in which Jan played a role that put him in danger almost daily to the paratroopers arriving with thousands of dollars, medical supplies and plans to make weapons.

While the author related dozens of tales about helping persecuted people escape death the novel never stopped being interesting. She folded all into her story so flawlessly that I marveled again and again at her talent with the telling of such a fascinating story. Thousands were saved by the Polish people, over 300 through Jan and Antonina's direct interventions. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands perished in gas chambers, by execution, through bombing, and other cruel methods. Hitler was determined to destroy Warsaw and the Polish people. Imagine burning the sick and injured in hospitals. It's so hard to understand Nazi cruelty. I quail when I think about their atrocities. How can anyone do such things to human beings?

This amazing story told by a talented author brings hope to all mankind. And, Ackerman proves that historical novels can be outstanding reading even when it covers a topic as tragic as this one. An inspiring read!
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 64 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
This book tells the historical story of Polish zookeepers in WWII Warsaw. The zoo is bombed but they manage to save over 300 people from the Nazis by hiding these "guests" in zoo cages/buildings. It is a evocative book describing survival, underground activism, and the kindness of human interactions. The extensive research by the author is well written to blend the historical details with the natural surroundings of the zoo grounds and natural environment of Poland.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 502 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I've read a lot of books about the holocaust in an effort to understand how something this horrific could happen and why people let it happen. This is a well written book, but I was very disappointed that we learned so little about the Jewish prisoners. Instead, it focused on zookeeper and his wife, who were Polish. The telling of the story of the Warsaw ghetto was very informational, and we got some view of the Polish resistance to the Germans, but there was too much info about zoology and the zoo itself. It was new info however for me to read about the participation and lengths of involvemnent of older and extinct animal species of Hitler and the Nazis, who believed they were preserving "true" races of animals too, to get back to the original, like a master race of animals too.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 10 more book reviews
Even though this is a non fiction book, I had to keep reminding myself that it was because it read more like a historical fiction book. It is a great story, suspenseful, and is full of interesting facts to boot. I ended the book with a better understanding about how the events of WW11 affected the lives of Christian Poles and Jewish Poles. It was interesting to see how the Zabinski's used their knowledge of animal behavior to help them rescue so many jews without ever being discovered by the Germans and Nazi's. I would highly recommend this book.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 1754 more book reviews
Poles who hid Jews during the Holocaust is newly appropriate given the denials of the current government of Poland. How they managed to live together is important.
"One of the most remarkable things about Antonina was her determination to include play, animals, wonder, curiosity, marvel, and a wide blaze of innocence in a household where all dodged the ambient dangers, horrors, and uncertainties. That takes a special stripe of bravery rarely valued in wartime."
Index.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 5 more book reviews
Not sure the title describes the book, but this is an interesting account of living amid WWII.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on
The Zookeeper's Wife A War Story is a keeper. I do not intend to retrade. It was an excellent book.
Sunnee avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 7 more book reviews
I liked this book. It was interesting and I wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen next, especially to the main character who seemed to have to do everything alone and who had to put up with a grumpy, unsupportive husband (who also seemed rather mean). It was a little weird that some of the story seemed to be taken from assumptions that the author made from photographs she had of the characters but overall it was a nice book to read. It was also interesting, although sad, to find out what happened to these zoo animals during the war.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on
I wanted to read this book because it sounded very interesting. It is evident the author did her research, but the writing style in this book is just not for me. I couldn't even finish.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 30 more book reviews
I am sure the book was well written. I had to skip parts as it was too depressing and horrifying. I was not in the mood, I guess, as the truth be told about a horrific event in our history. What they did to the people and animals was terrible as we all know. It is a shame that the rest of the world didn't know what was actually going on in Europe.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on
The Zookeeper's Wife is a story about a woman who has no significance to history and, worse, no apparent impact in her own damn story. At least half of the book - probably more - consists of interesting side notes on things happening AROUND Antonina, such as what her husband was doing in the Polish resistance, or tangentially related to the zoo due to various Nazi projects. The portions of the story that are about Antonina are, quite frankly, incredibly boring as her sole role in the story consists of staying at home and keeping up appearances at the house. No doubt an important role as the family hid Jews and resistance fighters, but there is simply not enough there to fill a whole book with.

The most valuable part of the book is probably the bibliography, which one might use to find other, more interesting books, about related subjects.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 14 more book reviews
At the time of the Warsaw ghetto, the Warsaw zoo's keepers hide Jews in plain sight. The zoo had been decimated by the Nazi's and their quest to also purebreed exotic animals. New York Times bestseller, winner of 2008 Orion Award
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 9 more book reviews
This book was an easy read and quite informative about the war. If you love animals, you will relate to this story. It is the story of a zoo in Poland during the occupation of Germany. Its really cute in the beginning with the "way it was" but as with anything in that era, nothing last forever. A husband and Wife help the underground with the Getto residents and it does fill the heart to know such good people exist in the world, even though it happened dacades ago. A very nice read.
traveller avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 74 more book reviews
I really wanted to like this book, especially as I was born in England during WWII. However, after a few pages, which were not easy reading, I gave up, and consequently feel guilty. I understand how terrible conditions were for the Polish people, but continuing to read this 300+ page saga was most depressing. As yet I have not seen the movie, but plan to do so.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 111 more book reviews
I couldn't get into this book. I love this period in history, but the writing style and the droaning on and on about things that didn't necessarily seem to relate to the story bored me. I had to put it down.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 4 more book reviews
Great book. I was both fascinated and horrified at the events that took place. What brave people they were!
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 65 more book reviews
Interesting but nothing outstanding. Maybe I've read too many of this genre to be impressed any more.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 5 more book reviews
This is a moving and uplifting true story about the courage and resiliance of one family in Warsaw during the nightmarish days of the Nazi occupation, when the stated goal of the Nazis was to empty Warsaw of most of its inhabitants by exterminating all Jewish Poles. Its descriptions of the Warsaw ghetto and the atrocities that were commonplace during that time are horrifying, but the story is not about that horror. Rather it is about a family, and especially about one woman, who were willing to risk their lives to save those they could while living as normally as possible. It is about their courage and hope, their generosity and kindness--to people and animals alike--and their unbeatable spirit, which never failed to see the beauty and goodness and even the humor that, incredibly, survived even in those dark days. Their determined belief in LIFE is always apparent (even to bringing a new baby into this grim and frightening world!). I'm grateful for finding this book and richer for having read it.
thielal avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 8 more book reviews
I always finish a book, however this was the first book I just had to put down half way through and forget about. I found it boring, and more of a history lesson than a story about the family that owned a zoo. I found myself skipping a lot of pages just to see if it would pick up at all...it didn't. I was very excited to read this book after reading a lot of reviews on it, however I would not suggest this book to anyone unless you are a history major or are interested in polish history.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 3 more book reviews
This is an excellent book that combines a historical real-life story with the history of the Holocaust in Warsaw, Poland. I found it informative and inspiring and would highly recommend reading The Zookeeper's Wife.
dduartebrown avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on
This is my new favorite book! Its a riveting and sometimes heartbreaking tale of Warsaw Poland before, during and after the Nazi invasion during WWII. It is realistic and quite memorable.
greedyreader avatar reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 22 more book reviews
Very well researched and informative.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on
A great true story
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 502 more book reviews
While this book was okay, I didn't love it. I don't know if I didn't like the characters, or what, as the writing was very good. There are other much better Holocaust books to read.
reviewed The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story on + 25 more book reviews
Beautifully written.
Better than the movie.
Insightful, understated.