Not-a-Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman


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Genre: Historical
Page count: 368 including index
Originally Published: September 2007

Another book brought to my attention by a movie trailer. What do you expect from a recovering TV addict?

The Zookeeper’s Wife is about Jan Zabinski, director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina. The book depicts, from Antonina’s POV, their bravery, compassion, empathy, and outright heroism, towards both animal and human alike, during the Second World War.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Character: Rereader
Plot: Rereader
Worldbuilding: Meh
Flow: Meh
Entertainment factor: Meh, almost a Rereader [★★★ + ½]
Did I enjoy this book? Yes.
Do I think the read a waste of time? No.
Would I read it again? Maybe in a few years.
Bonus question: Will I see the movie? Definitely!

Rating: Meh, almost a Rereader

3.5 stars

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If you’re looking for something a bit more in depth feel free to keep reading. If not, congratulations! That’s it! You’re done! Now, go buy a book (or not)!


I don’t often read nonfiction for the simple fact that there’s only so good of a story history can make. I much prefer historical fiction, where the author can take some liberties with people and events to increase the tension and make the story more entertaining. While I did enjoy reading this book, I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been written as historical fiction. This premise is such a great one, but like I said, history only takes a story so far. The author clearly did extensive research for this novel. Her own voice melds seamlessly with the excerpts taken from Antonina’s own diary and memoirs and she perfectly captures Antonina’s empathy and compassion for animals, a trait that beautifully and selflessly extends into her feelings towards people—I know, if you’re still reading you’re thinking, “But how can you like animals and not people?” Ummmm, have you ever spoken to a dog lover? That’s exactly what we do. We like dogs. We’re iffy when it comes to a lot of people. Especially cat people. Don’t get us started on fish people. Back to the book—The choice of words throughout the novel were beautiful and aptly fitting for the scene. Diane Ackerman’s descriptions range from the brutal, visceral descriptions of war to the softer descriptions of a mother’s love for her son and for animals. I know some people don’t, but I’m a person who enjoys more purple prose, and it’s hard not to like Antonina and Jan, but I was disappointed by the overall story. Given the premise, I expected A LOT more tension and conflict—I mean, it takes place in the heart of the Second World War. For the most part I feel like the effects of the war were kind of glossed over to make way for a lot of unnecessary information that the author came across during her research and wanted to share. Don’t get me wrong, some of this stuff is quite interesting, it just doesn’t quite fit.

Speaking of things that don’t fit: the flow of this story was broken far too often by leeeeeeengthy descriptions and tangents. I expected to feel the weight of the war throughout this novel, but I only felt it at times. The rest of the time I was concentrating on getting through the array of historical facts that interrupt the story. A full page describing an insect collection doesn’t exactly tug at my attention, and I found this happened a few times during my read. That being said, had most other novels gone on to describe an insect collection for an entire page I probably would have put it down and never picked it up again. For the sake of a few pages worth of downtime in the flow I couldn’t knock this book completely down to 3 stars. The flow is fairly good and the story is compelling, but I do think that the premise of this novel is more compelling than the execution. This book promises a lot of conflict and tension that it just didn’t deliver. I’d say this book is definitely worth a read, if not a reread, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what changes may have been made to the story for that extra entertainment factor necessitated by film.

If you’re still reading, give yourself a pat on the back!

sign off


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