BKMT READING GUIDES

No.
8


 
Informative,
Slow,
Insightful

26 reviews

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
by Diane Ackerman

Published: 2008-09-17
Paperback : 384 pages
59 members reading this now
60 clubs reading this now
33 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 18 of 26 members

The New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture starring Jessica Chastain.

A true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three ...
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Introduction

The New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture starring Jessica Chastain.

A true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these "guests," and human names for the animals, it's no wonder that the zoo's code name became "The House Under a Crazy Star." Best-selling naturalist and acclaimed storyteller Diane Ackerman combines extensive research and an exuberant writing style to re-create this fascinating, true-life story?sharing Antonina's life as "the zookeeper's wife," while examining the disturbing obsessions at the core of Nazism. Winner of the 2008 Orion Award. 8 pages of illustrations

Editorial Review

Amazon Significant Seven, September 2007: On the heels of Alan Weisman's The World Without Us I picked up Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper’s Wife. Both books take you to Poland's forest primeval, the Bialowieza, and paint a richly textured portrait of a natural world that few of us would recognize. The similarities end there, however, as Ackerman explores how that sense of natural order imploded under the Nazi occupation of Poland. Jan and Antonina Zabiniski--keepers of the Warsaw Zoo who sheltered Jews from the Warsaw ghetto--serve as Ackerman's lens to this moment in time, and she weaves their experiences and reflections so seamlessly into the story that it would be easy to read the book as Antonina's own miraculous memoir. Jan and Antonina's passion for life in all its diversity illustrates ever more powerfully just how narrow the Nazi worldview was, and what tragedy it wreaked. The Zookeeper’s Wife is a powerful testament to their courage and--like Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise--brings this period of European history into intimate view. --Anne Bartholomew

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

1. How does Diane Ackerman’s background as a naturalist and a poet inform her telling of this slice of history? Would a historian of World War II have told it differently, and, if so, what might have been left out?

2. Reviews have compared this book to Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda. How would you compare them?

3. Did this book give you a different impression of Poland during World War II than you had before?

4. Can you imagine yourself in the same circumstances as Jan and Antonina? What would you have done?

5. How would you describe Antonina’s relation to animals? To her husband? How does she navigate the various relationships in the book, given the extreme circumstances? Is her default position one of trust or distrust?

6. Do people have a “sixth sense” and how does it relate to “animal instinct”?

7. Some might judge Jan and Antonina guilty of anthropomorphizing animals and nature. Would you? Why or why not?

8. Can nature be savage or kind --- or can only humans embody those qualities? As science and the study of animal behavior and communication teach us more and more about the commonalities between animals and humans, is there still any dividing line between the human and the animal world? If so, how would you describe it?

9. The Nazis had a passion for animals and the natural world. How could Nazi ideology embrace both a love of nature and the mass murder of human beings?

10. The drive to “rewrite the genetic code of the entire planet” is not distinct to Nazism. What similar efforts are alive today? Are there lessons in Jan and Antonina’s story for evaluating the benefits and dangers of trying to modify or improve upon nature? Do you see any connection between this story of more than sixty years ago and contemporary environmental issues?

11. Genetic engineering of foodstuffs is highly contentious. So are various reproductive technologies that are now common, such as selecting for --- or against --- various characteristics when choosing from sperm or egg banks. How would various characters in this book have approached these loaded issues?

Suggested by Members

What did you learn after reading this book, you didn't know before?
How would you discribe Antonina and Jan's relationship?
Talk about the real contradictions, juxtapositions, ironies, and metaphors happening at the zoo.
by ReadingBetweenTheWinesATX (see profile) 05/20/17

In knowing that the zookeepers wife does not investigate nor does she want to know about her husband's work
how would that be different or not different in today's society?
by ahuihui (see profile) 09/30/09

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Picture This
by ReadingBetweenTheWinesATX (see profile) 05/20/17
Since this is based on true events and real people, search for pictures of the zoo, the art, the animals, and people. Print them to use as discussion tools.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Not what we expected "by ReadingBetweenTheWinesATX (see profile) 05/20/17

Written in a journalistic, non-fiction novel style, we thought the pace was slow. The stories are wonderful, but we missed the depth in character development that we love in books like THE NIGHTINGALE... (read more)

 
by Teamlange (see profile) 05/18/17

 
  "The Zookeeper's Wife"by mizele (see profile) 05/17/17

Opinions were very mixed. Some liked the history and information about the animals, the people, and WWII Poland. Others felt that it was poorly organized and included too much detail that wasn't necessary.... (read more)

 
  "Interesting "by Chickim4 (see profile) 05/13/17

My book club enjoyed this book because we were unaware of this true story. Periodically we will choose a book about the Holocaust and never fail to learn something new about this horrific time period.... (read more)

 
by mel29 (see profile) 05/08/17

 
by VolunteerVal (see profile) 04/27/17

Members of our book club enjoyed this book, but felt bogged down in some of the descriptive language. The writing was beautiful, and the author's love for animals and nature is evident. We had hoped... (read more)

 
by Rosec (see profile) 04/24/17

 
by pkoscinski (see profile) 04/19/17

 
  "Different perspective"by dmaria47 (see profile) 04/18/17

Detailed depiction of Warsaw. Craziness and brutality of the Nazis to not only create the perfect race but perfect animals was explored. Courage and ingenuity of the Poles, Jews, artists, was described.... (read more)

 
by stacy.steitz@gmail.com (see profile) 04/08/17

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