Saturday, January 10, 2009
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
This book was my pick for my IRL Book Club and I have to admit a part of me was really disappointed after I finished. Since around middle school, I have been very fascinated with the Holocaust and World War II. Not because I think what happened was good, but more along the lines of, how could something so incredibly awful happen and go unnoticed for so long. How does someone get away with trying to rid the world of an entire set of human beings because of their religion? I have so many questions and since I did not live during the time this happened, I rely on books, both fictional and non to try to gain more of an understanding to what really went on during this time.
One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the insight into the Polish view point. With the zoo being not far from the Warsaw Ghetto, it gives a different prospective than any other book I have read before. Diane Ackerman does a wonderful job describing the animals in this book giving you a connection to them. Her being a nature writer was great for this part of the story. However, this is also where I found the biggest disappointment to be. Her writing of the actual zoo owners (Jan and Antonina) is very lacking. You feel no emotional connection to the couple and their child as they harbor Jews and other people trying to escape the horrors of the Nazi Germans. Using the zoo as a safe house, was an ingenious idea and also very risky.
The relationship between Antonina and her husband Jan was kind of frustrating. He would go out of the house each day and work in different parts of the town making connections and helping to send signals for those who were needing a place to hide until further transportation was available. However, when Antonina did heroic things and stood in the face of a German and was calm and collected, he has no respect or praise for her. It always felt like he thought he was the only one out there doing anything or sacrificing himself that was so incredibly untrue. Even when Antonia is bed ridden with illness, she is still strong and in charge of the house and zoo where people are hiding.
Using the diaries from Antonina was a wonderful idea, but the information was put forth so harshly that you do not really get much insight into what was going on in their minds or hearts. Every item is just a fact. Don't get me wrong, I love facts and they do help to keep the story accurate, but it just left me feeling cold and disconnected with the story. As things were happening, I felt no connection to the character or what they must have been going through, which is something that I enjoy in books.
So, as a whole, the story in itself is a very powerful one. This family risked their lives to help others on their way to safety from the Germans during a time when being caught meant death. They knowingly sacrificed themselves for the greater good of others and that is a very admirable thing. All the lives that were saved because of people like them is wonderful.