The Zookeeper’s Wife is about Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who after the Nazi invasion of Poland became active in the underground and used their zoo to hide Jews and Resistance members. It is a story about very brave people and my issues with the book aren’t meant to insult them. I enjoyed the setting and perspective of the book and I liked learning about Nazi-occupied Poland for non-Jewish people. I also enjoyed the description of the zoo and Antonina’s love for animals made the book very interesting. I also like that for the main description of the couple as “Christian” they don’t actively villainize atheists and don’t bring it up much, they just leave it at these people used their faith to help other people which I think is a good direction to take it.
My first issue with the book is that there were or two instances where the author seems to imply that the discrimination against Roman Catholics by Nazis was comparable to their discrimination against the Jews, which did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I’m just going to chalk it up to me not understanding the original intentions of the lines in question as this does stop when the main narrative of the story takes over.
The main issue is that I couldn’t stand the way the book was written. For a book entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife there is shockingly little focus on the zoo or the people in it. The book would be going along then every few pages there would be a random tangent about people who aren’t really connected to the family which would last a few pages or even an entire chapter. It got really annoying after a while as because of this I didn’t really hear much about the stuff at the villa or their attempts to help resistance members. I would like to read a story about these people but I don’t need a few pages of a summary in the middle of a story about other people. Also, the book time jumps a lot. The main problem with this time jumping is that it happens at random in the middle of chapters and gets a confusing because the author is trying to document the lives of these people in 1943 and then suddenly they are back in 1942. A good example of this is with Antonina’s pregnancy as she appears to be pregnant and is bed ridden because of health related issues and then suddenly isn’t pregnant anymore and helping hide people in her house only for her to become bedridden again and then she is helping people again and then later she gives birth. Although maybe the birth is miraculous because after the birth the time jumping stops.
I can’t build a relationship with these people because I have no idea what their position is or if their in danger. Also, Jan is kind of mean to his wife, which I found uncomfortable to read about but since it’s nonfiction there isn’t much to be done about changing that attitude. I will say that it probably would have made sense in a more linear story because it comes right up out of nowhere in the middle of the book and isn’t discussed again.
I would recommend the book with reservations because while I found the writing style annoying that is a personal preference and other people might like that about it.
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating: Recommended with reservations