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Category: Nonfiction

AUGUST 13, 2007
Book Review - The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story.
Ackerman, Diane (author).
Sept. 2007. 384p. illus. Norton, hardcover

REVIEW. First published August, 2007 (Booklist).

Jan Zabinski, the innovative director of the Warsaw Zoo, and Antonina, his empathic wife, lived joyfully on the zoo grounds during the 1930s with their young son, Ryszard (Polish for lynx), and a menagerie of animals needing special attention. The zoo was badly damaged by the Nazi blitzkrieg, and their bit of paradise would have been utterly destroyed but for the director of the Berlin Zoo, Lutz Heck, who wanted Jan’s help in resurrecting extinct “pure-blooded species” in pursuit of Aryan perfection in the animal kingdom. Resourceful and courageous, the Zabinskis turned the decimated zoo into a refuge and saved the lives of several hundred imperiled Jews. Ackerman has written many stellar works, including A Natural History of the Senses (1990) and An Alchemy of Mind (2004), but this is the book she was born to write. Sharing the Zabinskis’ knowledge of and reverence for the natural world and drawing on her poet’s gift for dazzling metaphor, she captures with breathtaking precision and discernment our kinship with animals, the barbarity of war, Antonina’s unbounded kindness and keen delight in “life’s sensory bazaar,” Jan’s daring work with the Polish Underground, and the audacity of the Zabinskis’ mission of mercy. An exemplary work of scholarship and an “ecstasy of imagining,” Ackerman’s affecting telling of the heroic Zabinskis’ dramatic story illuminates the profound connection between humankind and nature, and celebrates life’s beauty, mystery, and tenacity. — Donna Seaman

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Categories: Book ReviewsNonfiction


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