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"Life isn't divided into genres. It's a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel."

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Zookeeper's Wife

This is a non-fiction account of WWII seen through the eyes of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Polish zookeepers. During Germany's invasion of Poland, this remarkable couple managed to hide hundreds of Jews from the Nazis in the empty cages and facilities of their zoo. Their complex subsequently became known as "The House under a Crazy Star" due to the ever-shifting panoply of humans and animals.

I thought this book was fiction when I first picked it up. Keep in mind, I rarely, if ever, read non-fiction. Don't ask why...I'm weird about it. When I discovered this book was non-fiction, I was about to throw it down in disgust. But I kept on reading and I'm very glad I did. This was a truly lovely story. I know, WWII, Nazis, concentration camps...how can all that be lovely? Diane Ackerman was able to instill a sense of beauty and calm in her descriptions of war-life, drawing on humorous anecdotes about the myriad zoo animals and tying their animal behavior so neatly to human experience. She was able to basically embody Antonina, bringing her to life as the foreman of the zoo, shepherding both humans and animals alike to safety. She and her husband Jan were truly remarkable people. Embodying a fierce spirit and a good will toward people in need. Yes, they shuddered at the danger they were bringing unto themselves and their children but not for a second did they consider abandoning those that needed them most. Wonderful.

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