Monday, May 19, 2008

The Zookeepers Wife by Diane Ackerman

Anyone who has read The Natural History of the Senses knows that Diane Ackerman has a magical way of describing senses and the natural world. I first read this work more than 10 years ago and it has stuck with me for a long time.

I was drawn to The Zookeeper's Wife when I saw that it was Ackerman telling the story. She does not dissappoint. She writes a non-fiction account of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, a Polish couple who run the Warsaw Zoo. When the Third Reich invades Warsaw and begins dismantling life for Poles and Jews, Jan and Antonina use their once beautiful zoo to help hundreds of Jews escape Warsaw and thier inevitable fate during the Holocaust.

Ackerman bases this beautiful book on Antonina's diaries and fills in the blanks with meticulous research about Warsaw, the Jewish ghetto and the world of Zoo's at the middle of the 20th century.

What arises is a beautiful tale of one couple's heroic acts in the middle of a strange otherwordly paradise which they created in the middle of a surreal kind of hell.

Ackerman not only tells thier tale but helps us understand what exactly they were up against during the war. She paints a vivid picture of Warsaw and the Poles resistance to Hitler and the Gestapo.

Jan Zabinski after the war was commemorated Righteous Among the Nations.

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