Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman (author), Suzanne Toren (narrator)


BBC Audiobooks America, ISBN 9781602834774, June 2008

This is the story of Antonina Zabinski and her husband Jan, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and their courageous sheltering and rescue of more than three hundred Jews as well as members of the Polish resistance during the World War II German resistance. Antonina's diaries are the main source, supplemented by other contemporary sources and Diane Ackerman's own research in Poland.

The Zabinskis were zookeepers by choice and vocation, caring deeply for the animals that were their responsibility as well as the healthy survival of at-risk species. Their pre-war home was alive with animals, both domestic and "wild," as Antonina nurtured orphans and nursed ailing or injured animals, as well as relatives, friends, and their own young son. The outbreak of war sees the slow destruction of everything they have loved, as the zoo is bombed, animals killed, and many of the dangerous animals shot by the Polish military to prevent their escaping and becoming a threat. Then the Germans move in, and things get even worse. The zoo is closed, and the animals of value taken for the Berlin Zoo. Antonina spends weeks not knowing where Jan, a reserve officer who naturally rejoined his army unit with the start of the war, is, or whether he is even alive. When he successfully makes his way back to her, they are not out of the woods. The occupation has barely begun.

Jan is a member of the resistance, and Antonina actively assists him in hiding Jews, and smuggling them out, as well as providing cover and assistance to other members of the resistance. They have the zoo land, and start a pig farm to cover the growing of food to be distributed in the Warsaw ghetto, where Jews are forced to try to survive on little more than a hundred calories a day. They hide people within their home and withing the remaining zoo buildings, and maintain an active social life with lots of visitors and guests, to ensure that they don't have a predictable pattern of activity and to make the presence of "extra" people less obvious. Conditions continue to get harsher and harsher, and the possibility of discovery ever more terrifying, while Jan and Antonina work to keep life, laughter, decency, and humanity alive in the midst of horror.

Highly recommended.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

The book trailer: