The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman. I’ve read a recommendation for this book and I was intrigued. I found it at the library and borrowed it. The Zookeeper’s Wife is the real story of Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski, written by Diane Ackerman, a storyteller that did extensive research for his book. I never considered what happened to the animals at the zoos in recent wars. It’s not something that talked about in the news section (personally I think too much emphasis is placed on sport and weather instead of international stories). After reading the book, I looked online to see details about the zoos in Syria. I found an emotional and both lovely and heartbreaking story on National Geographic about the rescue of the last animals from Aleppo in 2017. Do read that article, it only shows how contemporary problems are the same as the ones from before my mother was born.

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

The book is wonderfully written. There is an ecranisation, but the movie is not as good as the book, from the reviews I’ve read. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were amazing, they took so many risks, carried with them a cyanide pill in case they would needed it, and they saved hundreds of people and animals.

Jan wanted to create enclosures that were allowing the animals to live in a way as natural as possible. Antonina took her son on holiday and also took the cockatoo prone to dizziness and a baby badger just before the war started. The Poles thought that their alliance with France will protect them. As Antonina lost her parents in the First World War, so she was not thinking of a second war.

After the war started, they had to deal with Germans they knew and worked with, zookeepers themselves. One German, Heck, took many of their animals for his breeding programs, before coming with a party and shooting the rest of the animals in their cages for sport. Another German, Muller, helped them, by falsely arresting Jan so he could bring him back to the zoo. He released him in Warsaw, as he promised.

Ackerman doesn’t shy away from sharing harrowing figures, like 860,000 Poles being resettled so 75,000 Germans could take over their lands, 1,300,000 Poles were sent as slaves in Germany, and 330,000 were shot. Despite what happened, when the zoo still had a few animals, people would send them vegetable peelings, so did restaurant owners too.
When they started to realize what happens to the Jews, the Poles took action. Approximately one twelfth of the population would risk their lives to save their Jew neighbours.

After the Germans were driven out of Warsaw, the Russians arrived to “save them”. They did a lot of damage themselves. I mentioned this before, in Michael of Romania by Ivor Porter. They tried to rob Antonina, but she managed to stop them by saying in Russian: “Your mother! Your wife! Your sister!”

In 1947, Jan started repairing the zoo. Some lost animals were found. Sadly, after only two years, he had to retire. The Russian communists that ruled Poland didn’t think good of the people that fought in the Underground. He wrote an astonishing number of books about animals and conservation, 50.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes!
Published by: Old Street Publishing
Year it was published: This edition in 2009 (first published in 2008)
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Non-fiction. Biography
Pages: 368

About the author: Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognition for her work, which include the bestsellers The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses.

The Zookeeper’s Wife, a little known true story of WWII, became a New York Times bestseller, and received the Orion Book Award, which honored it as, “a groundbreaking work of nonfiction.” A movie of The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and Daniel Brühl, was released in 2017.
She lives with her husband in Ithaca, New York.

Other books by her: The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us; One Hundred Names for Love; An Alchemy of Mind; Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden; Deep Play; A Slender Thread; The Rarest of the Rare and The Moon by Whale Light; A Natural History of Love; On Extended Wings; A Natural History of the Senses.
Website & Social Media Links:

1 thought on “The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman”

  • Sounds interesting I love real life biographies and autobiographies…. It’s really interesting. I also love animals so this would be right up my street

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