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The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

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The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Cover

ISBN13: 9780393061727
ISBN10: 0393061728
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Staff Pick

Ackerman's bestselling books, including A Natural History of the Senses and An Alchemy of Mind, are illuminating windows into the human condition, and are distinguished not only by Ackerman's graceful and exuberant prose but by her inclusion of her own life experiences into the larger scientific questions she explores.

The Zookeeper's Wife is a different kind of book; Ackerman is very deliberately telling someone else's story. A work of narrative nonfiction, The Zookeeper's Wife focuses on Jan and Antonina Zabinski, zookeepers in Warsaw during World War II. In addition to saving as many animals as possible during the German assault on the city, the Zabinskis saved the lives of hundreds of Jews, often at great risk to their own.

Publishers Weekly claims in a starred review that "this suspenseful, beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership." In An Alchemy of Mind, Ackerman writes that her "favorite fascinations are nature and human nature." In Antonina's story, she has found the perfect confluence of the two.
Recommended by Jill Owens, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A true story — as powerful as Schindler's List— in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw — and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen guests hid inside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants — otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.

With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.

Review:

"'Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) tells the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina, who, with courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina's diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles' revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization that rescued Jews. Ackerman reveals other rescuers, like Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews 'pass,' giving 'lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice.' Ackerman's writing is viscerally evocative, as in her description of the effects of the German bombing of the zoo area: '...the sky broke open and whistling fire hurtled down, cages exploded, moats rained upward, iron bars squealed as they wrenched apart.' This suspenseful beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership. 8 pages of illus. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"

Review:

"A lovely story about the Holocaust might seem like a grotesque oxymoron. But in 'The Zookeeper's Wife,' Diane Ackerman proves otherwise. Here is a true story — of human empathy and its opposite — that is simultaneously grave and exuberant, wise and playful. Ackerman has a wonderful tale to tell, and she tells it wonderfully.

The book begins in the mid-1930s, when a young couple,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"[A] shining book beyond category....[A] book to read and reread and give to others." Los Angeles Times

Review:

"With its biblical allusions, cuddly characters and well-covered historical subject matter, The Zookeeper's Wife might have been a gamble, had anyone else but Diane Ackerman tackled it." San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"[An] absorbing book." New York Times

Review:

"Ackerman has done an invaluable service in bringing a little-known story of heroism and compassion to light. Highly recommended." Library Journal

Synopsis:

When Germany invaded Poland, bombers devastated Warsaw — and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski smuggled Jews through the empty cages, saving hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

Synopsis:

The New York Timesbestseller: a true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

Synopsis:

2008 Orion Book Award A true story--as powerful as --in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

Synopsis:

When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombersdevastated Warsaw-and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepersJan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jewsinto empty cages. Another dozen guests hidinside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging afterdark for dinner, socializing, and, during raremoments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active inthe Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives inthe animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kepther unusual household afloat, caring for bothits human and its animal inhabitants-otters, abadger, hyena pups, lynxes.Withher exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages usviscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. Sheshows us how Antonina refused to give in to thepenetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive anatmosphere of play and innocence even as Europecrumbled around her.

About the Author

Diane Ackerman is the author of the best-selling A Natural History of the Senses, among many other books of nonfiction and poetry. She lives in upstate New York.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

mgreiner1, February 13, 2008 (view all comments by mgreiner1)
What a delight to read of the rescue of Jews in Warsaw by people who could have turned their backs on the unpleaantness. Antonina and Jan had an incredible affinity for animals, and used their studies of animal behavior to defuse some dangerous situations with Nazis. The story is written in a way which pulls one into the tension, fear, joy, and success.
I recommend it highly for students of the Holocaust, animal behavior, and human behavior in extraordinary times.
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Grady Harp, September 9, 2007 (view all comments by Grady Harp)
'Why do we humanize animals and animalize humans?'

There are many stories that continue to come out of the WW II experience, stories of courage, love and survival in the face of near hopeless situations inflicted upon the globe by Nazi Germany, and, thankfully, biographies of heroes whose moral convictions were stronger than the destructive forces of Hitler's cadre. THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE is yet another unknown story, a true tale of survival of the human spirit pitted against what seemed to be the end of the world in Poland. Yet this book is not 'just another war story'. As presented by the astute investigator and gifted writer Diane Ackerman, whose many books include 'A Natural History of the Senses', 'An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain', 'The Moon by Whale Light - and Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins', Crocodilians and Whales', 'A Natural History of Love', 'Deep Play', 'Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden', 'The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds', and anthologies of poems such as 'I Praise My Destroyer: Poems' and 'Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems', this is a magical tale about a couple in Warsaw whose roles as zookeepers allowed their shared appreciation for animal life and ways of adapting to devise ingenious ways to protect many of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto from mass execution.

Jan and Antonina Zabinski were Polish Christian keepers of the Zoo when the Germans under Hitler's scheme of world domination and purification of Europe for the chosen race of Aryans began. Ackerman quietly builds her setting by concentrating on the special gifts of these two remarkable people in caring for the animals of the zoo: her descriptions of the various members of the menagerie are at once comical and insightful. When Hitler's move into Poland began the Zabinskis, long friends with the many Jews who lived around them, devised clever ways to turn the zoo and their own villa into a safe haven for the increasingly threatened annihilation of their friends who happened to be Jewish. Throughout the horrors of the German destruction of the city and the attempts of the Warsaw Uprising, led in part by Jan Zabinski, the couple maintained an atmosphere of calm and grace for the some 300 Jews in their hiding. Using the Zoo as a shield to deflect occupying German interest in animal studies as a part of their theory of purification, and as a means to gather food in the Jewish Ghetto for the 'animals', they were able to feed their 'guests' and provide papers and documents to aid the escape of the Jews who chose to flee Poland. And after the war the Zabinskis continued to refurbish the zoo and offer sanctity to those Jews whose lives had been so devastated during the crush of Warsaw.

Ackerman is a master craftsman and her depth of scientific knowledge about the animal kingdom makes her ability to relate this story of 'The Zookeeper's Wife' match the inordinate amount of research about her subjects to create an important document about an historical fact previously unknown. And yet her ability to invest her story with poetic force is always evident: '...war plays havoc with sensory memories as the sheer intensity of each moment, the roiling adrenaline and fast pulse, drive memories in deeper, embed every small detail, and make events unforgettable. While that can strengthen friendship or love, it can also taint sensory treasures like music. By associating any tune with danger, one never again hears it without adrenaline pounding as memory hits consciousness followed by a jolt of fear...It's a terrific way to ruin great music'.

There are times in this fine novel when the reader is jarred from the flow of the story being told by Ackerman's insertions of data or stepping in to remind us that she interviewed some of the survivors in her research: the drama of the tale is diluted momentarily by facts and figures and names, moving the reader away from the visceral experience of the Zabinski's story to remind us that we are reading a documented biography. Yet in the end the book is so powerful, so overflowing with gracious writing and so full of the indomitable human spirit that such small 'flaws' become inconsequential. Ackerman has unveiled another great moment in the histories of human kindness during times of war, and we are the richer for it. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780393061727
Author:
Ackerman, Diane
Publisher:
W. W. Norton & Company
Subject:
Eastern Europe - Poland
Subject:
Military - World War II
Subject:
Holocaust
Subject:
Eastern Europe - General
Subject:
Jews
Subject:
Righteous gentiles in the holocaust
Subject:
Ethnic relations
Subject:
Europe - Eastern
Subject:
Zabinski, Jan
Subject:
Zabinska, Antonina
Subject:
World History-Holocaust
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20070931
Binding:
Hardcover
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
8 pages of illustrations
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
8.6 x 5.9 x 1.3 in 1.185 lb

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Related Subjects


History and Social Science » Military » World War II » Europe » General
History and Social Science » Military » World War II » General
History and Social Science » World History » Eastern Europe
History and Social Science » World History » Holocaust
Religion » Judaism » Holocaust

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Used Hardcover
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$4.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages W. W. Norton & Company - English 9780393061727 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Ackerman's bestselling books, including A Natural History of the Senses and An Alchemy of Mind, are illuminating windows into the human condition, and are distinguished not only by Ackerman's graceful and exuberant prose but by her inclusion of her own life experiences into the larger scientific questions she explores.

The Zookeeper's Wife is a different kind of book; Ackerman is very deliberately telling someone else's story. A work of narrative nonfiction, The Zookeeper's Wife focuses on Jan and Antonina Zabinski, zookeepers in Warsaw during World War II. In addition to saving as many animals as possible during the German assault on the city, the Zabinskis saved the lives of hundreds of Jews, often at great risk to their own.

Publishers Weekly claims in a starred review that "this suspenseful, beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership." In An Alchemy of Mind, Ackerman writes that her "favorite fascinations are nature and human nature." In Antonina's story, she has found the perfect confluence of the two.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) tells the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina, who, with courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina's diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles' revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization that rescued Jews. Ackerman reveals other rescuers, like Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews 'pass,' giving 'lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice.' Ackerman's writing is viscerally evocative, as in her description of the effects of the German bombing of the zoo area: '...the sky broke open and whistling fire hurtled down, cages exploded, moats rained upward, iron bars squealed as they wrenched apart.' This suspenseful beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership. 8 pages of illus. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"Review" by , "[A] shining book beyond category....[A] book to read and reread and give to others."
"Review" by , "With its biblical allusions, cuddly characters and well-covered historical subject matter, The Zookeeper's Wife might have been a gamble, had anyone else but Diane Ackerman tackled it."
"Review" by , "[An] absorbing book."
"Review" by , "Ackerman has done an invaluable service in bringing a little-known story of heroism and compassion to light. Highly recommended."
"Synopsis" by , When Germany invaded Poland, bombers devastated Warsaw — and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski smuggled Jews through the empty cages, saving hundreds of people from Nazi hands.
"Synopsis" by , The New York Timesbestseller: a true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.
"Synopsis" by , 2008 Orion Book Award A true story--as powerful as --in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.
"Synopsis" by , When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombersdevastated Warsaw-and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepersJan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jewsinto empty cages. Another dozen guests hidinside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging afterdark for dinner, socializing, and, during raremoments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active inthe Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives inthe animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kepther unusual household afloat, caring for bothits human and its animal inhabitants-otters, abadger, hyena pups, lynxes.Withher exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages usviscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. Sheshows us how Antonina refused to give in to thepenetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive anatmosphere of play and innocence even as Europecrumbled around her.
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