Book Review – Zookeepers Wife by Diane Ackerman

This was the final book of my own personal alphabet challenge which I will be writing about soon.

It took a while to find a book title beginning with Z that sounded interesting but this one piqued my interest. Firstly, because it is based on a true story and secondly because it is set in WW2. Since having read Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey I have become intrigued with stories based in this time period, so I thought I would give this one a go.


When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.

The basic plot and story of this was superb, it is a tale of loss and corruption but also of love, bravery, strength and hope. I also liked the fact that this story was set in Poland, as it gave us an insight into other countries’ points of views of the war.

However, I must admit I didn’t like the writing style of this book. It was often told as if the writer is commenting on and almost reporting on the story rather than narrating. You had sentences like; “I wonder what she was thinking, when she…” which I felt broke the flow and immersion. The writer would also randomly talk about what was going on in different areas of Poland with no apparent link with the main story which I also felt broke the flow too much.

There were sections which were truly immersive when the writer acted more as a narrator. When this happened it was easy to get lost in the world and truly be absorbed but the distance she put between herself and the action ruined a lot of scenes for me and it happened a bit too much.

In my opinion, this story would have worked much better had she taken a more direct narrative such as Cilka’s journey. It often felt like she had clearly drawn a line between her and the action and she rarely stepped over it to let you be properly sucked into the world.

Overall I was quite disappointed as this book could have been spectacular, as the story is truly moving and inspirational especially as it is true. But it needed more immersive elements and direct narrative to make it a great novel.

There has been a movie adaptation of this, which I will watch soon and update this post with my verdict on it.

⭐⭐⭐/5 – Brilliant story but the narrative let it down

Have you read this book or seen the film? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments below.

Much love 💜

Photo Credit: Candle pictured is Book Lover by FictionalBoutique

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