Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: The Zookeeper's Wife

Let me start off by saying that I made a New Year's resolution to read at least one book per month this year. This book was supposed to be June's book... which I ended up finishing about a week ago. So it took me June, July, and part of August to get through--not the easiest read. Don't get me wrong, the story is fascinating, and tells a part of history of which I had no previous knowledge; it's just the way it was written was a little hard to follow.

The Zookeeper's Wife is the story of the director of the Warsaw Zoo, Jan Zabinski, and his wife, Antonina. It recounts their lives as they struggle through WWII era Poland, while also helping 300 friends, neighbors, and strangers escape the clutches of the invading Nazis. After the zoo is bombed during the blitzkrieg as the Germans invaded Poland, they use the zoo, their house, and its grounds as a safe haven for anyone needing one until they could get things in order and escape the country, or move to the next safe house. 

It is told mostly from the perspective of Antonina, frequently referencing her personal diary, and also using others' memoirs, photographs, and other historical documents for reference. This allows us to view the war in a way we (or at least I) never have before: through the eyes of one distinct set of people (the Zabinski family) as they make their way through it. There are times when the author focuses solely on Antonina's accounts, her fears, her actions, that the book reads almost like a historical fiction. This is when the book is easiest to read. Reading about everything that happens to the family, the dangers Jan, Antonina, and their son face (both individually and together), left me desperately following along to find out what would happen next.

And then the author interjects. This is why the book was so hard to get into. I'm not saying that what she was interjecting had no place in the book, because the facts and historical frame that she offers to the story of the Zabinskis is important and interesting in its own right. It's the way it was done. I sometimes found myself confused and lost as to what was happening and what we were talking about. Sometimes the interjections had nothing to do with what was going on in the previous paragraph. It was really difficult to follow along with for that reason.

That being said, I still recommend the book. It is unique in the fact that it recounts the courage of one family, helping hundreds of Jews at the risk of their lives and everything they loved. A story which I am sad that I had never heard before. And there are a lot of other historical facts in the book not relating to the Zabinskis that I also previously did not know. All in all, I learned a lot and found most of it fascinating. But if you do read it, you've been warned-- the author is kind of like a squirrel with caffeine in how much she jumps around.

Do you think you would read this book? And do you have any recommendations you want to share with me? I'm always looking to add books to my reading list!


  1. I'm not a big fan of authors who jump around like that. It makes it hard to follow. You think it would be easy since I am the type of person to jump around from subject to subject, but no. I've been trying to read more even though I feel like I've been at the busiest point in my life so far. I've been reading the same book since probably May but it was really really long and the point of view was one that I wasn't used to so it was a little difficult at first.


    Fashion and Beauty Finds

  2. I love books that change perspectives, telling the story from different character's viewpoints. But, if it isn't done in the right way, it can get a little confusing. I love reading though and it sounds like an interesting story!

  3. I do too. There's one book I read earlier this year that does it very well, called Night Circus (I highly recommend it). This was more of a "here's this from
    Antonina's perspective... now let me [the author] chime in with something unrelated..." It was frustrating at times.

  4. There are books that jump perspectives that do it well, usually in fiction where it's told from multiple characters' perspectives... this was not like that. And it was frustrating. Especially since the story itself was really good. What book are you currently reading?


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